For Leah Washington, 2015 was a year when her world was turned upside down by a horrifying roller coaster crash as she enjoyed a date at a theme park.
The 18-year-old from Barnsley was in the front row of the Smiler ride at Alton Towers when it crashed into an empty carriage, leaving her with devastating injuries that meant medics were forced to amputate her left leg.
Since the crash in June, which could easily have killed her, Miss Washington has been battling to get back to a normal life. Initially only able to use her prosthetic leg for a few minutes at a time, many hours of physiotherapy now mean she is strong enough to keep it on all day.
Her bravery in using her experiences for good, by helping to raise thousands of pounds for Yorkshire Air Ambulance, was highlighted last week in The Yorkshire Post’s Christmas Honours.
She and boyfriend Joe Pugh, 19, who was also injured in the crash, brought in £21,000 for the charity, while the couple have also appeared at the national Pride of Britain awards to present an award to the medics who helped save her life.
Mr Pugh, also from Barnsley, wrote recently how 2015 had been “the craziest year”. He tweeted: “It’s weird a horrendous accident that happened to us which changed our lives forever has led onto great things in our lives that we never thought would happen.”
The experiences we have had, like having a charity event that raised £21,000, is something we wouldn’t have had if what happened to us didn’t happen.Leah Washington
Reflecting on the last six months, Miss Washington told The Yorkshire Post that the horror of her near-fatal accident had led her to life experiences she never would have expected.
She said: “It is a good thing that Joe and I went through it together because we can talk about it together, we went through the same thing so we understand where each other are coming from.
“The experiences we have had, like having a charity event that raised £21,000, is something we wouldn’t have had if what happened to us didn’t happen.
“Going to the Pride of Britain awards and going on TV are all great experiences that wouldn’t have happened if the accident hadn’t happened. Support from our friends and family, and even people we don’t know, has been amazing.”
The teenager, who wants to be a teacher, was meant to go to Leeds Trinity University this September but decided she was not ready. She said: “The place is deferred, I haven’t decided what I am doing yet. I haven’t decided whether to have another year off to get myself back to where I was before. I don’t want to rush things and go back before I am ready.”
As her recovery continues, she insists she isn’t planning too far ahead. She said: “I just want to get walking on my prosthetic and start to live a normal life before I make any future plans. I still want to go into teaching but I don’t know when.
“I first used my prosthetic leg in August, as time has gone on I have built up how long I can wear it for. I can do it for a full day now, depending on what I am doing.” The nature of her accident means she initially found it hard to talk about without crying, but she says: “Because I have told it quite a few times now I am used to it and it has become easier as time goes on.
“It is still hard to think about it and talk about it. It has got easier from when I first opened up about everything.”
And although the events of the day at Alton Towers still come up in her thoughts daily, Miss Washington says she doesn’t bear any anger towards the theme park. She said: “They have been so supportive with us and so helpful.”
Miss Washington was keen to raise awareness and money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance after being treated on the scene and airlifted to hospital by air ambulance paramedics.
Her grandmother Thelma Walton asked their local Co-operative Bank to support a fundraising event the teenager had organized with fellow crash victim Joe Pugh.
That led to a special festive campaign, running across 86 branches in the North of England and Scotland to raise funds for local air ambulance charities. In Yorkshire, ten Co-operative Bank branches took part.
All money raised for Yorkshire Air Ambulance was due to be match-funded by the bank.