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Tammy Capararo shares her inspiring story

Thursday, April 2017


Tammy Capararo shares her inspiring story of exercising after meningococcal disease 

Despite losing both her legs and all of her fingers at 18, there’s no stopping this West Lakes member now.

By Harriet Edmund

Tammy Capararo remembers what life was like as an 18-year-old – she was backpacking around Australia in 2001 and living a reasonably carefree lifestyle.

But then, it all changed. “I contracted meningococcal disease and my family were told that I wasn’t going to survive,” she recalls.

Somehow, Tammy pulled through and woke up in ICU at Royal Adelaide Hospital a week later. Her legs from her toes to her knees were black, her fingers the same.

Meningococcal disease is an acute bacterial infection that can cause death within hours if not recognised and treated in time. Although the majority of victims will recover fully, Tammy was among the 20 per cent left with permanent disabilities.

Tammy lost both of her legs below the knees and all of her figures were amputated. Her body is also scarred from multiple skin grafts where the disease damaged her original tissue.

“My whole body was a mess. Everything became about just staying alive. I needed 40 operations and spent the next 12 months in Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre where I learnt how to do everything for myself again,” says Tammy.

The following eight years were spent trying to regain her confidence and getting used to how life was with her disabilities.

“Mentally I didn’t cope very well with it – I think by nature I am a pretty positive person and that’s what pulled me through, but it was tough at times.”

When life stepped up a notch

It wasn’t until Tammy moved from Port Lincoln to Adelaide in early 2016, that she decided to start training.

“I had this feeling of wanting to help myself out physically, to make life easier and to get the most out of my plastic legs,” says Tammy.

While the now 34-year-old, is open about the physical barriers that presented when she first joined Step into Life West Lakes – she couldn’t run, squat or kneel – her biggest barrier was mental.

“I had loads of anxiety about exercise because I had no idea what my body was capable of,” recalls Tammy. “But my trainer Shannon Barry was supportive from the first phone call, he calmed my nerves and encouraged me to just go along and see what we could do.”

Shannon says Tammy always brings a sense of belief, inspiration and motivation to West Lakes team. “We say: ‘if Tammy can get out and do it, then so can I’. Members are still amazed at what she can do and it lets them know that they can achieve anything they set their minds on, too!”

In less than a year since joining, Tammy can perform everything asked of her at training, but she’s also completed a five-kilometre True Grit obstacle event – including scaling a two-metre wall, and she just raced the Australian Corporate Triathlon in Adelaide.

Much more than a triathlon

When race day came around Tammy felt nervous, but determined to see the feat through. She was the last competitor to hit the water on February 26 for the 300-metre swim. “It was all set up properly for me because I needed to take my legs off – I had a friend help with that during the transition, but it meant I was in the water alone,” she says.

Another member of Step into Life West Lakes, Andrea Carston, then rode the nine-kilometre bike leg with Tammy, which she recalls as being intense on her body. “Then, during the three-kilometre run I felt like a lump of cement on the ground, but I looked over my shoulder and saw my whole Step into Life team running with me. I was almost crying because of the incredible support they were showing me. I know if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have finished.”

For the last 30 minutes of the run, Tammy couldn’t bare much weight on her stumps, and two members, Shane McGeough and Pistol Jacques, helped her across the finish line.

“The best thing to come out of it was how encouraging and supportive everyone was. It just blew me away. I was so grateful,” she says.

Tammy’s next move

Since joining Step into Life, Tammy now believes that anything is possible. “I’ve had a whole change of head space,” she says.

“I work 25-hours a week as a disability support worker, I’ve started turning up to training in my shorts – instead of always wearing pants to hide my prosthetics – and I’m now preparing for another True Grit event in May.”

Tammy says of the four sessions she now attends every week, boxkick is her favourite. “I love it, I’m so lucky, I have an amazing life, and I still pinch myself.”

WATCH Tammy crossing the finish line of the Australian Corporate Triathlon Adelaide in February 2016, with her Step into Life West Lakes team.


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Tammy Capararo shares her inspiring story