The senior cyclist who was in a collision with a B-double truck in Tamworth last year will make an incredible comeback after being on the brink of death to compete in a triathlon this weekend.
Judith Johnstone, 73, will line up to race at the Gold Coast Triathlon Luke Harrop Memorial on Sunday, just six months after she was in a critical condition with seven broken bones and a brain injury.
Not only that, but she hopes to qualify for the ITU World Championships to be held on the Gold Coast in September.
“If I can encourage other ladies my age, it’s amazing what you can do if you get moving,” Mrs Johnstone said.
“I’m only pushing because it’ll be the last time [the world championships] will be in Australia and it’s just up in Queensland – at 73, I can’t visualise myself going overseas next year, really.
“I just sort of thought it’s a bit of a chance to have a bit of a go.”
Son Greg Johnstone, a triathlete himself, applied through his Mum’s coach Mel Cockshutt to enter as his mother’s guide.
“With everything she has been through, I am just going to be an objective person who may say ‘slow down’, or ‘tip some water on your head’ or whatever is needed,” he said.
Mrs Johnstone, who admitted she was “being a bit of a daredevil”, said one of her most recent hurdles had been vertigo.
“I have a brain injury, of course – and of all the things, I really wish I didn’t have that,” she said.
“Your bones mend, but the brain injury does make it a bit harder.”
Mr Johnstone said having seen his mother in such a bad way was “one of the hardest things I have been through”.
Her recovery to this point has required much determination, intensive rehabilitation and family support.
And as much as he was impressed by his mother’s grit, he said the health system was also taken by surprise.
“Two-and-a-half months in hospital and I remember saying to the rehab doctor, ‘When can Mum do triathlon again?’ He said, ‘Never’.
“I went to see our sports physio after she got out of the hospital system; he got the x-rays and checked her and said, ‘There is no reason why she can’t compete’.
“We found that the medical system very much wanted to pigeonhole her and it is very ageist.”
Mrs Johnstone wouldn’t have any of that, though.
“When she was in the rehab ward, they wanted her to do rehab once a day, but she said, ‘No, I want to go in the afternoon as well’. She was just eating it up,” Mr Johnstone said.
“I think that if we are steady and we pace ourselves and she has a good day, she will get through.
“We hope that it goes well.
“It will be one foot in front of the other and hopefully it will be a wonderful celebration of her recovery.”
Having supported her son’s triathlon activities over the years, Mrs Johnstone was convinced to make the transition from spectator to competitor – at 72 years of age.
“I used to always put things under Mum’s nose like little memes – ‘Happiness is your first triathlon’ – and Mum said eventually it sunk in,” Mr Johnstone said.
“About a year ago, she said, ‘Let’s give this a go’, so we aimed at the Enticer race in Forbes.
“When I signed her up for that she had never even swum 25 metres, but she had to swim 300 metres.”
She did it – with style and in the allowed time.
She wants to do the same this weekend.
The Luke Harrop is the last qualifier for the worlds, and in her age group she’d be almost certain to get a spot just by applying, but she aims to make the qualifying time.
“That way when I do go to the Worlds, at least I feel like I deserve to be there rather than I just lived long enough to get onto the team,” she said.
Mr Johnstone said that, as she looked forward to the race, “she didn’t sleep because she was so excited that it might still happen”.
“It is pretty cool that at 73, with everything she has been through, she is still trying to move forward.”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.