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Dressage rider battles back from accident

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Helping you heal: Virginia McKey is offering fitness and nutrition advice through her personal training and life-coaching company, VeeFit (Photograph supplied)

Virginia McKey dreamed of representing Bermuda in the Pan American Games for years. She was almost there when tragedy struck.

Her horse, Wolkenglanz, got nervous and threw her as she trained in Canada for the 2011 games. The accident shattered one of the dressage rider’s vertebrae.

“My horse was young and very spooky and caught me off guard,” said Mrs McKey, 44.

Doctors said it was only because her body was so strong that she was not permanently disabled.

“I’ve always loved strength training,” said Mrs McKey, who ran a gym out of the St George’s Club before she moved to Simcoe, Ontario, eight years ago.

“My fitness training is what saved me. My abdominals and lower back were stronger than most people’s and saved me from being paralysed.

“Before the accident, I was doing fitness competitions. I was lifting weights and doing yoga and Pilates. I was lifting 25lb to 100lb, four days a week.”

At the time of the accident she owned a horse-training facility as well as a personal fitness and life-coaching company, called VeeFit.

She was put on bed rest for three months after she broke her back. Then came more bad news: a backlog in the Canadian medical system meant she would have to wait two years for surgery.

She sold the horse facility but refused to give up on the Pan American Games.

“After bed rest was up I got right back on Wolkenglanz,” she said. “I went to Florida to compete, loaded down with painkillers. I finally saw a specialist, who said if I was thrown again I might be paralysed. He was finally able to schedule surgery for six months later.”

She missed out on the 2011 games but was finally able to participate in July. Things didn’t go quite as she had expected.

“My horse found the atmosphere overwhelming and shut down a little bit,” she said. “To be there was amazing. I am happy and proud that I made it. That was the biggest thing.”

The event was the highlight of her riding career. It also ended a chapter for the lifelong competitive rider.

“I ran out of money after that,” she said. “I won’t be competing again, internationally.”

Mrs McKey moved back to Bermuda last month. She left Wolkenglanz with a friend and runs her business, VeeFit, here.

“I have 15 years of experience,” she said. “When I was in Canada I specialised in training middle-aged women, specifically those who wanted to revamp their bodies to perform in fitness competitions. It was about getting on stage in a bikini. Some of my clients were recovering from injuries.

“My accident gave me greater insight into what my clients go through. After my surgery, I wasn’t able to do anything for several months. Doing a basic exercise was horrible. I couldn’t believe how uncoordinated I felt and immediately got back into training and felt strong again. Because of that I educated myself in all the best ways of dealing with injuries. I get a lot of people who are coming back from major injuries.”

She has also become more interested in the nutrition side of healing.

“I had to learn what foods are necessary for a full comeback,” she said. “In today’s world there is so much processed food and so many hormones that go into the foods that we eat. Your body is constantly fighting that and trying to get rid of that instead of healing itself.

“I just want to make a difference in the health and happiness of Bermudians struggling with diabetes, heart disease and other problems.”

Contact Mrs McKey via e-mail at vee@veefit.com or vhmckey@yahoo.com.

Representing Bermuda: Virginia McKey on Wolkenglanz at the Pan American Games in Toronto in July (Photograph supplied)
Proud moment: Virginia McKey on Wolkenglanz at the Pan American Games in Toronto in July (Photograph supplied)