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Catriona digs deep for a cure

Catriona Williams’ best friends didn’t just offer support when she suffered a second spinal cord injury – they started a committee to raise funds for spinal cord injury research. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

“When you break your neck, you never think ‘oh, this is going to happen a second time’”.

Unfortunately, for Wairarapa philanthropist Catriona Williams, lightning did indeed strike twice – when she sustained two spinal cord injuries, almost 20 years apart.

After this “double whammy” of life-changing accidents, Williams was determined to “turn a negative into a positive” – so, from her bed at Burwood Spinal Unit, she and a devoted group of girlfriends devised a new fundraising initiative to help others literally get back on their feet.

Last year, Williams injured her C2 vertebrae, resulting in surgery at Christchurch Hospital, and rehabilitation at Burwood – where she spent both her 50th birthday and 20th wedding anniversary.

She suffered her first spinal cord injury in 2002 after falling from her horse during an equestrian event, which left her a tetraplegic.

A year on from her second accident, she has launched her latest fundraiser, DigDeep4CatWalk: a limited run of hand-forged garden trowels, the proceeds of which will go towards Williams’ charity The CatWalk Foundation.

Since its founding in 2005, CatWalk has raised millions of dollars to support research on finding a cure for spinal cord injury-paralysis.

The idea for DigDeep4CatWalk came about when a group of close friends “rallied around” Williams as she recovered at Burwood – and were inspired by her grit and determination to complete even simple tasks, like raising her head off the pillow.

After some “great discussions over wine”, Williams’ friends formed a committee and approached an overseas manufacturing company – which created a line of hard-wearing trowels, now available for purchase online.

The phrase “digging deep” refers not only to gardening but being able to find strength and courage from within during times of adversity – a concept Williams is intimately familiar with.

“Even when you’re surrounded by amazing people, like your partner, family, or friends, it’s up to you to pull yourself out of a bad situation,” she said.

“Things happen, sometimes right out of the blue, and we have to dig deep to overcome them.

“We were determined to dig deep and create something beautiful out of my accident – something that can help others, especially now with the world being in such a crazy place.

“The whole idea is that when you dig deep, flowers will blossom.”

Williams said DigDeep4CatWalk was inspired by her passion for gardening – the thing she missed most after her first accident.

“Obviously, I’ve missed things like horse riding and dancing – the rewards from gardening are enormous, mentally and physically.

“I really missed the little things, like sinking my hands into the soil, and sitting back and watching things grow. It’s so therapeutic.”

She is hopeful purchasing a trowel through DigDeep4CatWalk will allow people to do their own “digging deep” – developing their garden and working on their mental health in the process.

She and the DigDeep committee are “very excited” to launch the new trowels: crafted by Dutch company Sneeboer, they are made from high-quality stainless steel, and come with a lifetime guarantee.

Williams, who was made a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014, said she is “doing well” since last year’s injury: working on her fitness by swimming, hand-cycling and going to the gym twice a week.

She is also pleased to report she has been able to pick up her gardening tools – and is particularly proud of her herb garden.

To purchase a trowel for DigDeep4Catwalk, go to www.catwalk.org.nz.

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