Ana's story...of the resilience, wisdom and courage of the human soul
In August of 2016, 24 year old Ana Downer-Duprey successfully completed The Round the World Clipper Race with her crewmates on the yacht “Visit Seattle”, finishing eighth. Here she shares her inspiring journey of recovery after two serious accidents in 2010 and 2012 forever changed her outlook and life...
Interview by Caroline Diana Bobart:
Before my accidents I would describe myself as a happy-go-lucky, extremely busy and social person. I was always doing something - socialising, sport, gym, training, organising events, work…I was a whirlwind, and I loved it.
Looking back however, I can see that that outgoing girl didn’t have much depth. I had been knocked about a bit by life but hadn’t yet awoken to the realisation that I needed to look inward and work on myself. I did not like looking at the unpleasantness within me. I just wasn’t able to explore those emotions at that time.
In 2010, I was involved in a severe accident during rugby training. It resulted in my left leg becoming paralysed for about 6 weeks, but the overriding injury that proved to be more devastating and life changing was due to me hitting my head on the hard wooden floor. It gave me a mild brain trauma which took a long time to recover from. I had to leave college as increasingly I couldn’t compute what was going on anymore. I had bone crushing fatigue, I couldn’t even follow the simplest of storylines or always recognise familiar faces. My memory failed me and my mind played tricks on me.
It is very difficult to remember much about that period. It was a bit like hibernation. I cut myself off from the world, friends, social media…everything. Almost like I was preparing, waiting to wake up and do something. I had fallen apart and looking back, I believe I was subconsciously gathering myself to begin working on my emotional and spiritual selves, almost like a bear hibernates in preparation for spring.
I had unconsciously been forced to climb into my dark cave and strengthen myself, as clearly, I wasn’t going to do that consciously and willingly. After all, I had been much too busy with life!
Following this, in 2012 I was a front seat passenger in a road traffic accident. The car skidded, flipped and rolled, many times. Everyone in the car survived and we were all lucky to be alive. I received multiple fractures to my pelvis, a broken pubis, shattered left shoulder/clavicle, multiple deep lacerations to my left leg, and, again, I hit my head badly on the tarmac through the open window as the car flipped.
This accident was different though.
Although I had almost recovered from the previous rugby accident, I was still floating through life with my feet not quite touching the ground. The car accident changed all that in an instant. It was so bone-crushingly physical. I was hurtled back to earth and I landed back in my body with a great big thump.
Post road traffic accident, I became acutely aware that I was no longer the ghost I had been, merely existing through life.
I suffered from PTSD, flashbacks, night terrors and cold sweats…I couldn’t trust myself or my mind. I did not know what was real and what was not. The road ahead was very long, full of physiotherapy, mental therapy and a whole host of other therapies in order that I could become physically, mentally and emotionally well again.
I am still regaining my trust and confidence with myself even now.
My launch back into the ‘real world’ came to a head in 2015. In my bid to prove that I had ‘recovered’ I had set myself the challenge of living and working in London. Little did I know that my soul was seeking a challenge of a much bigger kind.
I saw the advert for The Round the World Clipper Race on a billboard whilst I was travelling on the Underground: a yacht race where amature sailors race around the world on 12 yachts that compete against each other over a period of 11 months.
Since my accidents, I had watched my friends doing so much - finishing college, gap years, university etc - that I had not been able to do. I felt like an underachiever and like I had been left behind. So although I had never sailed before, the advert said two things that stuck - ‘no experience necessary’ and that it would be an ‘adventure’.
I immediately applied to request the brochure and things quickly snowballed from there.
I found myself at the interview...and then on a yacht...
My yacht was called Visit Seattle. She was a 70ft Clipper yacht and overall, we finished eighth. There were different amounts of crew for each leg of the race and living in a confined space with that many people was tough. There was no privacy or personal space and I learnt to live and work with people of different ages, outlooks and backgrounds, for extended periods under stress.
My time on the yacht really taught me about myself and fundamentally who I AM.
I saw a lot of people who were scared and fearful of the ocean but I loved and respected her. I enjoyed the thrill of the huge storms without fear. I felt alive, my veins pumped with adrenaline and I buzzed with excitement and anticipation. We were this tiny little boat bobbing in the vast abyss of the ocean, so small and insignificant, and that feeling humbled me. The ocean could have eaten us up for a snack.
Post-race, back on dry land, I have continued to learn so much. For example, I see so clearly that while recovering from my accidents, I felt so helpless and incapable that I unwittingly developed a view in which I put everyone and their achievements on a pedestal. I thought of myself as not being good enough. I felt as if I would never be ready enough to get on with the business of ‘normal living’ again.
I have been learning that everyone is equal and at the same time, unique. Everyone, including me, has a unique path and this thing we each wake up and ‘do’ everyday is life.
Through my recovery I have learnt that my perceived shortcomings around achieving the perfect life just aren’t true. They arose when I was physically and mentally unable, but I have grown and healed since and don’t need that old belief system anymore.
I see now that it was important to have goals to motivate me along the way and help me evolve, heal and grow, but that we must choose our goals based on our TRUTH and deep individual needs. That is, there is no ‘one-size’ fits all goal that we all should be striving towards.
I have learnt that each of us is in exactly the right place, doing the exact thing that we need to be doing and when we are deeply connected into our intuition, we are able to continue growing, improving, learning and evolving because we take the next steps that are perfect for us.
If you see yourself as incapable, not worthy or ‘ready enough’ it becomes easy to measure yourself against yardsticks that don’t actually exist.
And when you do this you set yourself up to fail.
I know this because during the latter part of my recovery I went round and round in circles, feeling unworthy and less than. I kept on searching for experiences and external validation that would help me attain the unattainable and make me feel complete until one day, finally it clicked...I realised I didn’t need this in the end and it would never come to me anyway because I was, and am inherently complete.
Now that I’ve come down from the high of finishing the Clipper race, I have moved back to London and have recently been accepted to a top University where I will be for the next 4 years.
In the meanwhile however, I am still working on the art of self-validation and fully appreciating my unique life path. The past years have taught me that loving and celebrating my magnitude, capability and resilience is what enables me to shine.