A JOCKEY left paralysed in a horrific riding accident is set to return to horseracing – just four years after the fall which almost killed him.
Wearside-born Andrew Lakeman suffered a severed spinal cord and broken neck when he was thrown from his mount in 2007.
The 36-year-old, who grew up in Sunderland before moving to America to pursue his career, was rushed to hospital, where he was also treated for broken ribs, a cracked sternum and punctured lung.
However, after gruelling treatment and rehab, he is now preparing to return to the racetrack as a trainer.
“We all have a choice whether to sit in the dirt or try to rise above it,” he said. “Just because I’m in this wheelchair life doesn’t end.”
Mr Lakeman, who first fell in love with racing as a youngster while taking care of ponies on his grandfather’s farm, said his goal is to prove he can be a winner from a wheelchair.
“This is my passion. This is my life,” he said. “To have a horse and to try and do good with him gives me a purpose.”
Mr Lakeman, who is paralysed from the chest down, hopes new horse Thisskysabeauty can be ready to race at Belmont Park, New York, next year.
“This horse was special, because I’d gone to stalls of other horses and they would just run to the back of the stalls and flare their nostrils at my wheelchair,” he said. “But when he came, he put his head straight on my lap.
“This horse has brought me back to a new life.”
Mr Lakeman was riding 78-1 underdog Our Montana Dream at Belmont Park when she lost her footing.
He was thrown to the ground and trampled by a trailing horse.
Mr Lakeman, who also lived in France and Germany before settling in New York in 1997, awoke with his family, flown in from England, weeping at his hospital bedside.
“I really didn’t know what had happened, but I couldn’t speak because I paralysed my vocal chords,” he said.
“I was told that I would never walk again. That really hit me hard.
“I thought my life was over. What was I going to do now?”
Dr Adam Stein, chairman of physical medicine and rehabilitation at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Centre, helped the 5ft 8in horseman return to the sport.
“This is, in fact, the story of someone who has overcome adversity, and recreated and reinvented himself, and really sort of ultimately defines what we see as a true success in rehabilitation,” Dr Stein said.