Jockey Frye beats the odds after near-tragedy

MAT KERMEEN
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
Ashley Frye
MATT KERMEEN/ Fairfax NZ

NIGHTMARE OVER: Matt Cropp and Ashley Frye making the most of life at the family's North Canterbury home.

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Four months ago Ashley Frye was living the dream.

The talented jockey was the leading apprentice in the South Island, but in the blink of an eye she was left fighting for her life with just a 50 per cent chance of survival.

Her mount, Zuleika, suffered a heart attack which sent Frye head-first into the Ashburton track with such force her helmet was knocked off.

The then 18-year old was left with a fractured vertebra, broken collarbone and suspected brain damage.

Less than four months on, Frye is recovering well and thankful she is alive to tell the story.

"I'm lucky to be here - most people that suffer raceday falls don't come off as good as me."

She was a friend of Ashlee Mundy, who suffered fatal head injuries in a mid-race fall in December 2012 at Kurow.

Frye has no recollection of the incident on March 14 that left her unconscious for so long that she was placed in an induced coma with no guarantees she would ever wake up.

Her partner, Matt Cropp - also a jockey - and her racing parents Danny and Kay staged a bedside vigil for seven "intense days".

"The hardest part was not knowing what was going to happen," Cropp said.

"The doctors couldn't give us any information that we wanted to hear, it would only be 50/50 and nothing more."

Two days after the fall, Cropp feared the worse.

"When I saw her on the Saturday I started having fears. Her head was massive, it looked like she had been in a car accident and you couldn't even recognise her.

"I started having some real doubts then.

"You start to think, ‘is she actually going to come out of this?'."

Cropp described the day Frye woke from her coma as the best day of his life. But there was still a long way to go for Frye.

Even weeks after she had regained consciousness, Frye - lying in rehab with a neck brace on - would ask Cropp if she was just in a really long nightmare.

"I was thinking ‘I've been asleep for a really long time, when am I going to wake up and this bad dream will end'?"

But she continues to improve, and other than a small scar above her left eye she now has no recognisable injuries.

"The doctors are saying I should make a full recovery in time."

Frye is still struggling with some aspects of life, including short-term memory. But minor and temporary health problems no longer seem a big deal for a family who are just happy to have their partner and daughter home.

She is now back working around the stables and says her love for the industry is as strong as ever.

With her father and partner riding competitively, Frye says she worries about them more after her fall, but still believes racing is no more dangerous than other sports.

"She [Zuleika] was really young to have a heart attack. It was just a freak accident and it hasn't put me off riding at all."

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