Co Londonderry gymnast aims big 10 years on from injury which left her paralysed

Each step along the road to recovery is one against all odds.

A freak spinal injury during gymnastics training changed Jennifer Smyth's life in an instant.

In 2013, while training like she did most days, she landed on her back following an attempt at the vault.

In a split moment, she had quadriplegia - a condition with paralyses each of the body's four limbs.

It left her unable to move and forced her to spend months in hospital and facing a long road to rehabilitation.

10 years on - the bar is being raised on how far she can go.

On Friday, she will celebrate with family and friends at a special event at the Ivory Pavilion in Ballymena to mark the milestone and show just how far she has come when everything was stacked against her.

"Growing up with gymnastics I had loads of injuries so I had the same mentality that this injury is the same as any other," she told UTV.

"It will just take a bit longer to recover from."

The ten years of recovery has had its challenges.

Mastering flips and twists was replaced by learning what most people take for granted.

Learning how to master an exoskeleton, a piece of equipment designed to help people with disabilities to walk again, was preceded by how to hold a pen again and even how to sit in an upright position.

But years of rehabilitation have brought Jennifer to this point.

For the first time since before her accident, she is able to stand on her own two feet - unaided.

"It was absolutely amazing being able to stand for the first time after ten years," she said.

"Like, 'I did it, this is amazing!'," she added.

"I was told in the beginning, you're going to be in a wheelchair for the whole of the rest of your life. You're not going to walk again and now I'm proving to them that, yes I am. It will take time but I will do it."

However, these milestone moments are somewhat bittersweet.

In 2016, Jennifer's father David, died while taking part in a cycle on St Patrick's Day.

He was raising awareness around his daughter's condition, but suffered a major heart attack days later, leaving Jennifer facing another battle.

"That night it happened, he said to me, goodnight, love you, he's off to bed. Then didn't come down in the morning.

"But my last memory of him is him telling me he loved me which I think is really nice."

But with every bit improvement comes a desire to get stronger.

Jennifer is about to jet off to the United States to take part in a gala event for people with paralysis.

And when she comes home, well, her intentions are clear.

"Sharing my story through social media, I hope to inspire others to show that life isn't over after a spinal cord injury," Jennifer said.

"And with that mentality of wanting to help other, I actually want to open my own gym one day."

Jennifer's past is darkened by trauma and loss, but her future's looking incredibly bright.

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