FOR Coleen Kehoe, it had been a wonderful day.
On Sunday, December 6, a new trail she had helped build at Awaba Mountain Bike Park had just been officially opened, and, with the formalities over, she and husband Rick Kehoe prepared for a ride through the bush.
The couple's lives have revolved around mountain biking. They had met while riding at Glenrock almost 20 years ago. And they were literal trail blazers in the foothills of the Watagan Mountains, spending countless hours building not just tracks at the park but interest in the sport.
The trails they helped create included sections suitable for bikes adapted for riders with special needs.
When she wasn't building tracks, Coleen Kehoe was riding them. For her, being out on the bike was "my go-to place".
According to her husband, Coleen Kehoe was a "brilliant" rider. Indeed, that brilliance gleams in the Kehoes' home at Thornton, with all the trophies and awards for Australian and state titles that Coleen has won. She was particularly skilled at defying fear and embracing gravity in downhill racing.
Yet she wasn't just a champion on the track; in the eyes of the mountain biking community, Coleen Kehoe, or Polly Waffles as she is nicknamed, is renowned as a matriarch of the sport, helping teach younger riders.
"She would be the ultimate example of someone who lived and breathed mountain biking, not just for the participation for herself but the development of the sport as a whole," said Josh Bridson, the president of the Hunter Mountain Bike Association (HMBA), which maintains the Awaba tracks.
"She was always there, putting in and physically working on the trails."
On the afternoon of December 6, with the hard work over, Coleen and Rick Kehoe prepared to ride the downhill track and link up with the new trail. Then it all came crashing down.
"We didn't get past the top of the downhill," recalled Rick Kehoe.
Coleen was riding at barely walking pace when her front wheel slid off a rock.
"Some of the stuff I've tackled around Australia was so intensive, so rocky with drops, and to do this at only two kilometres an hour, that's the part that I think probably plays most on me, more than anything," she said. "It was a simple fall."
A simple fall with catastrophic consequences. She tipped over the handlebars and landed on her head.
"I heard the bones crack," Coleen Kehoe said. "I heard the vertebrae crack.
"I'd stopped dead, and my back closed like a pocket knife and it couldn't close any more, and the vertebra, the T4, it exploded."
She also cracked her C2 vertebra, had bleeding on her spinal cord, and had broken ribs. Coleen Kehoe was airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital. The shock of the crash rippled out from the bike park, as people learnt what had happened to their beloved Polly Waffles.
"In one day it went from a situation of complete joy and happiness with the development of the park under her input, when all of a sudden she is struck by the cruellest of blows at a place where her interests and passions lie," said Josh Bridson.
Coleen Kehoe had no feeling in her body from the chest down. She was given the news that she would be living with complete paraplegia. It was unlikely she would ever walk - or ride a bicycle - again.
"You're in a shell of what your self used to be, because what you used to be is not existent anymore," Coleen Kehoe said. "Your mind and who you are is, but how your body functions, and how your body used to be, is not like that anymore. Not having any control over it is probably one of the hardest things to come to terms with."
Her husband and daughters, Charmaine and Alyssa, were also coming to terms with what had happened.
"I ask myself sometimes, you give so much, you enjoy your sport, you do something as simple as this, and it changes everything," said Rick Kehoe. "Everything."
After three months at Royal North Shore Hospital, Coleen Kehoe has been transferred to the Royal Rehab facility at Ryde for ongoing treatment. While her husband and daughters travel to Sydney to see her, home feels a very long way for Coleen Kehoe.
All I hope for, and all I long for, every day of the week is just to be home," she said.
Coleen Kehoe doesn't know when she can head home. She has more skills to learn at the rehabilitation facility, and the family's house has to be modified, which will cost many thousands of dollars. Those who love and admire Coleen Kehoe are trying to help. The HMBA has a fundraising page on its website. A GoFundMe account set up by bike organisation SRAM Australia has more than tripled its goal of $10,000.
On Saturday from 5pm, a fundraising event is being held at Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club. The organiser, Dave Tape, knows Rick Kehoe but has never met Coleen. However, Mr Tape has some understanding of the pain and fear she has been experiencing.
"I too fractured my spine, in 2009," Mr Tape said, explaining he was injured in a skydiving accident. "I didn't end up paralysed."
Dave Tape said the surf club event would include live music, raffles and auctions of donated items, and he hoped it would raise more than $15,000 for the Kehoes.
"There's just going to be so much expense in readjusting their lives, let alone readjusting their home and everything else," he said.
Coleen Kehoe said she was overwhelmed by people's care and generosity and had a simple message for them: "Thank you. How can you print the biggest, humblest thank you to people?"
"I feel loved. I feel honoured to think I've got the best community and the best friends about."
The champion rider remains connected to mountain biking. She hopes to return to some of the trails she helped build at the Awaba Mountain Bike Park.
The sport that Coleen Kehoe has given so much of her life to, and that has changed her life so dramatically, is still very much part of her life.
"My feeling towards mountain biking is I still love the sport," she said. "My sadness is I'll never ride a bike again.
"Mountain biking, I hope, will still be my 'go to' place when I'm feeling down, that I can get in an adaptive bike of some sort and go for a ride and feel really good after going for a ride."
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