BRIGHTER FUTURE: Noosa mayor Clare Stewart's long road to recovery after narrowly surviving a horrific road accident.
BRIGHTER FUTURE: Noosa mayor Clare Stewart's long road to recovery after narrowly surviving a horrific road accident.

The heart wrenching journey to become Noosa mayor

LITTLE did Clare Stewart know the morning she took off for her daily run on Friday, August 18 2000, it would be her last.

When Noosa mayor Clare Stewart was 23 she had a life many people can only dream of and it seemed the world was at her feet.

"I was living in Bondi, I had two degrees and I had big plans to go to London," she said.

"My biggest concerns were what would I wear to work that day."

This particular Friday morning, the budding young law graduate set off for her speedy 10klm run like she did every morning.

"I had the same routine every morning," she said.

"Same route every day, same time."

Before the accident, what Clare's legs used to look like in 1999.
Before the accident, what Clare's legs used to look like in 1999.

About 300 metres from Clare's apartment was a pedestrian crossing.

It is this pedestrian crossing that will be etched in Clare's memory for the rest of her life.

"I got to the crossing and I looked both ways," she said.

"Just as I crossed, a garbage truck came around the corner and by the driver's own admission, he failed to see me.

"The truck stopped, but on top of me," she said.

"Both my legs were trapped under the front left wheel.

"My legs were tangled."

Learning to walk again with Neil Clare's physio in late 2000.
Learning to walk again with Neil Clare's physio in late 2000.

Recalling that fateful day, Clare, who was conscious throughout the entire incident, can still remember seeing a blur behind the windscreen.

That blur turned out to be the driver of the truck.

"He jumped out of the car and he said, 'what can I do?'" she said.

"I said, 'get the truck off my legs'.

"I said, 'you have done enough, you have probably ruined my life'."

Clare in a wheelchair with her parents and great aunt Elsie. (September 2000)
Clare in a wheelchair with her parents and great aunt Elsie. (September 2000)

Luckily the driver did not move the truck, because it would've caused severe blood loss and Clare's certain death.

"I was watching my legs disappear, literally," she said.

"There was flesh, blood, muscle and tissue. All just puddles on the floor.

"I was screaming, 'please they won't have to amputate my legs will they?'"

Miraculously, thanks to her unfathomable determination and the professionalism and efficiency of the emergency service men and women who helped Clare on that day, she survived.

Weight training on the 18th anniversary of her accident. (18 August 2018)
Weight training on the 18th anniversary of her accident. (18 August 2018)

And even more amazingly, after more than a year of painful operations and countless surgeries, Clare's specialists advised they were able to save her legs.

Much to the surprise of some of the people who helped her that day.

"I ran into one of the ambos years later, and he said, 'not a day goes by when I don't think about your accident, you were given enough morphine to kill a horse'," Clare said.

Clare on her wedding day in June 2010 with husband Cam.
Clare on her wedding day in June 2010 with husband Cam.

Clare knew life would never be the same again after her accident, but it didn't really hit home until the first time she opened her bedroom drawers.

"I'm sitting in a wheelchair with these legs that had been so badly scarred and disfigured and disabled and I'm looking at the wardrobe of a 23-year-old," she said.

"I looked at these clothes I'd never wear again,"

"These shoes I'd never be able to wear again.

"I was fully aware of everything I had lost," she said.

This year will mark the 20-year anniversary of Clare's accident.

 

Clare with husband Campbell and sons Joseph Stewart and William Stewart.
Clare with husband Campbell and sons Joseph Stewart and William Stewart.

She is adamant neither her or her family hold any resentment towards the driver of the garbage truck on that tragic morning on a pedestrian crossing in Bondi.

"I don't blame him," she said.

"I asked, as did my parents, that he never be charged.

"If I saw him now, I would say, 'I never held you responsible'."

"Because I always thought if that was my Dad, I would never want him to be charged for something he didn't intentionally do," she said.

"From a personal point of view, if I had any bitterness or anger or resentment towards him it would serve me no purpose.

"It's not going to help me walk better, it's not going to take away my pain."

"It's just going to create a really unhappy person."

These days, Clare lives a full and abundant life with her husband and three gorgeous children.

"I think the accident has given me a greater empathy for other people and a greater understanding of hardship," she said.

"You always see someone a lot worse off than you."

"The accident just reaffirmed how strong my relationship is with my friends and family," she said.

"In many ways it has made me a better person."


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