Aurélie Brihmat (34), from Trets in Bouches-du-Rhône, has just completed a trip around France on horseback. The journey took five months, which is remarkable enough in itself, but Aurélie lost her leg in a road accident when she was a teenager.
She set out on March 30 from Aix-en-Provence, on a circuit starting at Mende, and going via Lyon, Pionsat, Bourbon-Lancy, Beaugency, Tours, Angers, Rennes, Malestroit, Ploemeur, Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, Niort, La Rochelle, Angoulême, Bordeaux, Albi, Lamalou-les-Bains, Palavas-les-Flots and Le Grau-du-Roi with all sorts of detours on the way.
“I’ve always been sporty, always been up for a challenge,” she said.
“Even after my accident, I didn’t fall into a deep depression. I took losing a leg as another sporting challenge.
“When I was very young, I remember seeing this old, one-legged man doing a parachute jump and realising that the impossible can be possible. I was so impressed by him, that when my leg was amputated, I wanted to be like him.”
Her accident happened when she was riding her scooter. She was carved up by another driver and twisted her handlebar round to avoid a collision. In doing so, she crashed into a fence.
“I found myself in hospital with a leg missing, multiple fractures to both femurs and pelvis, and the femoral artery severed.
“I spent six weeks in intensive care, but the other driver didn’t even stop. I owe my life to the ambulance team who rescued me. But 15 operations and 15 years later, here I am, a speech therapist by training and determined to live life to the absolute full.”
And she wants to pass the message on. “I want to give people hope, like that old man gave me hope. Non-disabled people sometimes don’t realise how lucky they are; I also want to encourage them to grab life with both hands.”
Her tour of France called in at medical and residential centres for disabled people all over France. “When a one-legged girl arrives riding one horse and leading another, with a dog sitting up behind her, it surprises people. We got a lot of tears, not just from disabled people but from the staff too. It was very emotional.”
She said her missing right leg was not the main problem she faced during her challenge. “It was my hip. I need a hip replacement, but I wanted to do this journey first. However, riding up to six hours a day was tiring, and I also have a back problem which means I have to do exercises every morning and physiotherapy every week. So that increased the fatigue.”
Aurélie said she hoped that, by pushing herself to the limits, she’s encouraging others to follow suit. “People see me and they are amazed, but I want other amputees to know they have a future, they can still live their dreams.”
She said even just meeting her animals helps people and makes them feel better. She is sure her horses know she only has one leg, that they are protective of her, and take care so that she does not fall off.
“Animals understand my fragility, they are nicer than humans in that respect.”
Her dog Spy rides behind her through towns, but on the open road he runs alongside and picks things up that Aurélie drops. “It’s very hard for me to dismount if I drop my map or something, so he picks things up and gives them to me.”
She didt train him to do it, she said, it is just the result of a close affinity.
“Animals don’t judge disabled people.”
Having completed her tour, Aurélie said she’s going to rest. “And then I have an appointment with the surgeons.
“I have already had 15 operations, and I have four or five waiting for me. But after that... I’ll be back!”
Aurélie has set up an association, HandiDream, (handidream.com) which aims to support and encourage disabled people to launch into ambitious projects.
Apart from encouraging people to live their dreams, the association also provides animal therapy.