Disaster leads to success
LYING in bed with a broken back and a dream of sailing the Pacific shattered, Lesley Pope could not have imagined that this week she would be accepting a University Medal for academic excellence.
Ms Pope, one of 170 students who graduated at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus on Saturday, received a University Medal after achieving first class honours in a Bachelor of Social Science.
She has also received a scholarship through the Aged Services Learning and Research Collaboration to complete a PhD focusing on older parents of ageing people who have disabilities.
Ms Pope began studying in 2001 after an accident on a yacht left her with a broken back and incapable of work at that time.
"The accident happened in Pittwater," she said. "My husband and I were about to sail north and then off into the Pacific for a couple of years. Everything was ready, it had been a dream for 25 years to go sailing.
"I was hit on the head by the boom and landed on the gunnel (edge of the boat) and broke my back in several places. I was in hospital for several months and then spent more time in a spinal injury unit."
Ms Pope couldn't sit or stand, and spent most of her time lying down, so to pass the time she enrolled in Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Social Science degree.
"I just wanted to move on and leave it all behind," she said.
"I really have used study as a distraction from the pain and frustration."
Now, after recovering physically and completing her degree, she has set her sights on a PhD, which she hopes will contribute to finding solutions for older parents of people who have disabilities.
"I know there are lots of families in the community whose adult children have disabilities, but their children aren't young anymore. The parents are in their 60s and 70s and they feel quite trapped," she said.
"An older mother who is 70 or 80, for example, might have a son or daughter with a disability who is in their 50s or 60s. She can't even die in peace because she doesn't know who will look after that person when she's gone. "I want to identify what the issues are for these parents and to explore some solutions."
As for sailing, Ms Pope and her husband still have their yacht but are looking to downsize to a smaller vessel.
"It scared us both that something so awful could happen so simply. But we still love sailing and intend to do more."
University Medals were also presented to Tabitha Phelps and Victoria Smith, who both achieved first class honours in their Bachelors of Psychology. Ms Smith also received the Psychological Society Limited Prize.
Lisa McTaggard, who graduated with a Bachelor of Business Hotel and Catering Management, received the Coffs Harbour City Council Prize and the Meetings and Events of Australian Industry Prize.