‘My face was stitched from one end to the next - it was horrific’: Competitive Irish dancer on the horror lorry smash that ended her career
A former competitive dancer has said she feels lucky to be alive after a horror car accident that ended her career in an instant.
Irish dancer Sarah Gillespie (30) was just weeks away from competing in the World Championships in 2010, when she was involved in an accident with a lorry that left her with catastrophic injuries.
Sarah was a passenger in a car which was hit by an oncoming lorry during icy conditions in Germany and the accident left her with internal injuries, broken bones in her arms, legs and feet and serious facial lacerations.
The dancer recalled the accident and said that although the crash was instantaneous, it felt like it was in slow motion.
“It was complete slow motion. I literally felt like I sat back and watched the lorry approach and hit. I could see it coming and knew it was going to hit us. I remember telling the driver to make sure he told mammy and daddy I loved them.
“I remember the paramedics arriving and one of them holding my head. One of them spoke English and explained that we had to wait for the fire brigade to cut me free from the wreckage. I remember my whole body feeling like it was on fire after I had been lifted from the car.
“In the ambulance I told the paramedics all about dancing in the world championships and how this was my big year. I asked if they thought I’d be ok to compete – I don’t remember getting an answer.”
“It may seem strange but as the car crumpled in around me I was hoping that I’d be ok for the world championships in a couple of weeks’ time. ‘I hope my legs will be ok’, I thought,” she said.
The then 25-year-old was pulled from the wreckage, but she did not anticipate the extent of her injuries which would prove career-ending for the dancer.
A month after the accident, Sarah was flown home for treatment in Donegal, Sligo and Dublin and she admitted that recovery was so difficult she doesn’t know how she got through it.
“I returned home with broken bones in my feet and arms, I couldn’t use any of my limbs, I had a rupture in my stomach so I couldn’t sit up straight because I had no power in my tummy area. I’d say I frightened people because my face was stitched from one end to the next - it was horrific.
“Mammy said she would never forget the evening I got home. She had no idea what to expect and she realised when I arrived that I was in far worse condition than she actually thought. That was the start of the long, hard journey. I was treated in Letterkenny, I was treated in Sligo, I was treated in Galway, I had surgeries in Dublin - I had my latest scan in Dublin just a few weeks ago on my tummy. It’s been six years and very tough road. I often think that if it happened today, I’d say: ‘Leave me here I am not going through that again’,” she said.
Sarah admitted that although it was difficult to come to terms with her career dreams coming to an end, she said it pushed her life a new direction for the better. The Donegal woman said that her focus on competition was unhealthy and she doesn’t like how the sport has changed in recent years.
“Had it not been for accident I would still be fully focussed on competitive Irish dancing.
"That was always where my heart was, it was always what I wanted to do. Today I don’t have the respect for it that I used to have. Irish dancing in Ireland has become elitist, political and financially stressful. It’s become everything it should never have been. When you trace its roots you see it was designed for the masses to enjoy but that’s not the case anymore,” she said.
Last May, Sarah featured on RTE’s Dragon’s Den, where she pitched her new initiative Rinka, a non-competitive fitness class for children. The entrepreneur hopes to spread the business outside
“With Rinka, kids gain fitness through drama and through dance - they’re working out without even knowing it and it’s always inclusive so no one ever feels left out.”
“I see the other side of [Irish dancing] now. I see the kids under pressure to perform who may well have the talent but can’t handle the pressure and I see the kids who may not have the talent which is demanded these days. Kids are little human beings and when they are not appreciated they pick up on that. Everything we do at Rinka gives them a space where they know they are important, feel they are wanted and believe they can do it,” she said.