Rally driver's road to recovery

22:42, Jan 14 2013
 Stuart Scoular
PwC financial services partner and part-time rally driver Stuart Scoular is back at work six months after he and his brother had a horrific accident during a race. He lost his leg, but both were lucky

Even the best can have a bad day.

Rally driving may seem counterintuitive for a professional risk assessor, but Kiwi ex-pat Stuart Scoular, who lost his leg in a shocking accident, would disagree.

Scoular, indeed, precisely matches the personality profile of the professional risk taker: what he does is measure and mitigate risk, not avoid it. And his attitude has aided his recovery.

The road was straight but undulating and Stuart Scoular and his co-driver and brother, Bret, were doing nearly 200kmh in their Subaru WRX STI.

This being a Targa rally at Lake Arapuni, New Zealand, Scoular had not driven the section of road, nor did his co-driver have pace notes. New Zealand Targas, which are held on tarmac, are raced "blind".

The sharp left-hander was on to them quickly, Scouler washed off as much speed as possible, the turn tightened and two wheels strayed off the tarmac. Something that might happen a couple of times a day.

But this particular turn had a large culvert running underneath with solid concrete edging.

"I thought we had made the corner and I was actually looking down the road to the next corner," he says.

"But instead we just stopped. From 150 kmh to zero in 1.5 metres."

The concrete block only stopped half the car. Bret Scoular's half went 1.5metres further.

"We were conscious and I said to my brother 'are you OK?' 'I think I have a broken leg or two'," Scoular recalls. "I lent forward to see what happened and Bret said to me: 'Mate, don't look down'."

But he did look, seeing his right leg severed below the knee.

"The concrete had come through the driver's footwell and I'd effectively had a traumatic foot amputation. My brother had broken ribs and a sore tail bone."

As well as losing his foot, Scoular had two burst fractures in his back, a pelvis broken in two places, a broken left leg and ankle, and a broken right thigh. The accident happened last June and since then he has undergone multiple operations.

But just six months later, having hoisted himself out of a wheelchair in the Sydney offices of PwC, where he is a financial services partner, he says it is not the trauma of the crash that sticks in his mind.

"I remember, in that sort of hazy moment when you are coming out of anaesthetic, when you can hear talking but you don't quite know what's happening, the surgeon speaking to me," he says in a calm and steady voice.

"He was saying 'Stuart can you feel this? Can you move this?' The drive shaft of the car had almost cut the sciatic nerve of my left leg and so they were worried because that would have meant no control of that leg or, worse, an amputation."

Not only that, but a piece of wood came flying through the windscreen, narrowly missing both occupants.

"So really, we both came within inches of being killed. The surgeon said to me 'Stuart, I have some bad news, you have been in a serious car accident. You have lost your lower right leg'. I remember clearly at that point thinking 'actually, that's not that bad'. So my first response was positive. I think that was very important to where I am today."

Where he is today is back at work, in a wheelchair for the moment while his broken leg heals. Scoular has recovered strongly after eight weeks in Waikato Hospital and more operations and bone grafts in Australia.

He has worked through what he refers to as one of the darkest parts of his recovery. Having progressed from wheelchair to a crutch, the bone graft on his left leg failed to take and a supporting metal plate, not designed to take his full weight, broke in October.

"The plate obviously gave way over time and my foot was moving very strangely - which wasn't a surprise when we saw the x-ray," he says.

"That was actually the darkest period because I thought I had lost three months in my recovery."

Scoular is quick to credit the help and assistance he has had on this journey, from his fellow competitors who gave him first aid, to rally organisers, medical staff, his employer - and PwC clients - and his family.

And he wants to race again.

"Motor racing has always been a passion and while my priority is recovery, I would like to think I could race in the future - there is certainly no technical reason why not. You can't wrap yourself in cotton wool."

Nevertheless, Scoular is not an adrenaline junkie, despite the risks of his chosen sport. Indeed, he is a risk assessment professional.

He insists: "I dot my 'i's; I understand how to evaluate risks and part of that is accepting that sometimes things just don't go to plan. But I am a conservative driver, our car had all the safety equipment and the Targa is a very well-run event with all the appropriate safety measures."


 Stuart Scoular
BACK AT WORK: Stuart Scoular.