Throughout July, BBC Scotland’s Sporting Nation series is reflecting on some of the greatest feats and personalities from Scottish sporting history. Here we look at Stephanie Inglis, a judo Commonwealth Games medallist at Glasgow 2014 who has been recovering after a horrific accident two years later left her fighting for her life.
“Sometimes when I’m driving home from work, I think to myself, ‘I had a one per cent chance of survival’. It plays around in my head. I actually nearly died. It’s just crazy.”
It’s six years since Stephanie Inglis won Commonwealth Games silver in front of a home crowd in Glasgow. She lost in the final to England’s Nekoda Smythe-Davis, but has since won a far greater fight against far greater odds.
In 2016, Inglis took a sabbatical and travelled to Vietnam to teach English. This once-in-a-lifetime adventure turned into a life-changing nightmare.
She was riding a taxi motorbike when part of her skirt caught on the machine’s back wheel and pulled her to the ground. She was left in a coma with serious head injuries.
A crowdfunding campaign raised money to cover the cost of treatment in Thailand and a flight back to Scotland. She woke up in an Edinburgh hospital six weeks after the accident. The physical damage was significant; she had to learn to walk again.
Inglis has no memory of the accident, but says she will never forget the generosity of the people who helped save her.
“I’ll always be thankful to people for that. I’m the luckiest person you’ll ever meet,” she says. “After the accident the doctors told me the only reason I survived was because I was so physically fit.
“People ask me what was my motivation when I was lying on a hospital bed. It was the thought that one day I’d be back competing on the judo mat. I thought that, however long it took, I would fight again.”
‘What’s the point if I’m never going to fight again?’
Inglis survived her horrific accident, but that dream of returning to competitive judo did not. She was told if she suffered another blow to the head, she might die.
“It took me a long time to overcome that,” she says. “After that I just stayed away from judo, I didn’t want to be around it. I was feeling rubbish, I put on a lot of weight. I felt like I was a different person.
“When I came home from Vietnam I was going to the gym and going for walks, but it was half-hearted. I was demotivated because I was so far away from the fitness levels I used to be at and felt exhausted all the time. It was a hard one to get my head around.
“I thought, ‘what’s the point if I’m never going to fight again?’. With judo I always had a goal, always a target and always knew exactly what I was working towards.
Returning to judo with an old friend
Eventually Inglis came to terms with her situation and, although still unable to take to the mat herself, her love for judo returned along with her involvement in the sport.
Glasgow 2014 gold medalist Louise Renicks – “she and I are best pals” – asked if she would be her coach for the European Veteran Championships. Together, they won silver, a comeback that has led Renicks to consider a full-time return for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
“I’d better be involved in that…” Inglis says. “I’m going to be living some of my judo dreams through her if that’s the case.”
Inglis works full-time as an Active Schools co-ordinator in Perth and Kinross, putting on sessions including judo but has, in recent months, become something of an aspiring lifestyle guru.
She has started a page on social media called ‘Steph Inglis Healthy Living’ to hold herself accountable for getting fit again and, hopefully, encourage others.
“There’s a big difference from being a professional athlete to where I am now, but I am starting to make good progress,” she says. “I’ve lost two-and-a-half stones, but I’m not setting myself a target. It would be nice to get back to my fighting weight, but that’s probably not realistic.
“When I was an athlete I just felt good all the time. It’s not how toned and athletic I might have looked, it’s just how it made me feel. I just want to work hard, train and eat good food so I can start feeling that way again.
“My doctor says that just because I can’t take part in contact sports doesn’t mean I can’t take part in sport. I enjoy running so maybe one day I’ll do a half-marathon or maybe a marathon, but don’t hold me to that.”