Sunday, December 3, 2023

Manawatū athlete lost a limb, but not her fighting spirit

Neal Wallace
Sharon ‘Shaz’ Dagg is evidence that out of adversity come opportunity and inspiration.
A missing limb is not stopping Manawatū para athlete Shaz Dagg.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

As Shaz Dagg sat in her hospital bed coming to terms with the reality that she no longer had a left arm, she realised one of two options would define her future.

She told several hundred people attending the South Island Dairy Event in Invercargill in late June  that she could have hidden behind the “door” that had suddenly appeared in front of her, or she “could break the bloody thing down”. She chose the latter.

The life-changing farm injury has inspired rather than hindered the 58-year-old from Feilding, proving what she can do rather than what she cannot.

She was selected for the New Zealand Paralympic triathlon team to compete in Tokyo and last February completed the Coast to Coast multisport race across the South Island.

Dagg also uses her motivation and love of sport to inspire people facing adversity, to help disadvantaged youth and to encourage young people with disabilities into para sports.

This is all a far cry from what Dagg called her very ordinary life four and half years ago.

All that changed when she was helping a friend milk 900 goats on a Manawatū farm.

To provide protection from the weather, sheets of corrugated iron had been attached to deer gates in the adjacent yards.

Dagg was closing one of those gates when a freak gust of wind hit the gate like a sail, picked her and the gate up and tossed them into a narrow gap, breaking her left arm. 

It was a severe break that required surgery.

She was admitted to hospital but, despite repeated requests to have her injury further assessed, five days later surgery had still not happened.

Medical staff rushed into action when she was finally seen by a surgeon.

Her injury had deteriorated to the point where the surgeon had to make a cut the length of her arm on two sides to get access to the break and to relieve the swelling.

She underwent nine surgical procedures in 11 days, which saved the arm

Nine months later her arm was marginally better, but bereft of muscle and of such limited use it hampered rather than helped her.

She wanted it amputated.

“I decided I wanted to move on in my life. I didn’t want this cock in a sock to drag me down into a situation I didn’t want to be in.”

Her decision was initially vehemently opposed by husband Owen.

“He was very blunt in his opposition, but it was because he cared for me and he was trying to protect me.”

Eleven months after the accident she was back in hospital having the arm removed.

She has no regrets.

“It was the best decision. I’ve never looked back.

“After the surgery I looked down and met Stumpy [her stump] and I had the biggest smile and happy tears running down by cheeks.

“I was turning a negative into a positive.”

A specially designed adaption enabled para athlete Shaz Dagg to kayak in this year’s Coast to Coast multisport race.

Dagg had been a social runner and cyclist, so when she started looking for new challenges, she gravitated towards those disciplines.

She hated swimming but a month after the amputation tested herself in a pool with a view to competing in triathlons.

Manawatū local and former Olympic triathlete Shane Reed and his wife Tammy heard about Dagg and started coaching her.

Not having an arm meant major modifications to her bike, with the gears and brakes shifted to the right-hand side. A swimming wing was developed to help strengthen her left shoulder.

Dagg says the Limb Centre in Wellington has been helpful and very innovative in designing adaptions to allow her to compete.

Another challenge was overcoming the loss of her arm, which caused a loss of balance when running.

“I kept veering to the right because I don’t have my left arm to balance me.”

After competing around the world to build up her international triathlon ranking, a bronze medal in a buildup event in Tokyo secured her selection to the NZ team.

However, with the risk of covid, she decided to withdraw from the Paralympics.

She turned her attention to the Coast to Coast, a multisport event from Kumara on the South Island’s West Coast to New Brighton at Christchurch.

Organisers agreed she could enter but only if she paddled a tandem kayak with someone else in the 70km leg on the Waimakariri River.

Together with the Limb Centre and Fielding plumber Brett Garrett, new adaptions were developed.

Garrett used hose connections, PVC piping and two $1 O-rings to create a grip that allowed her to paddle.

Dagg told the conference her aim was to finish February’s 243km event over two days, but one of her biggest challenges was climbing over car-sized boulders with just one arm during the mountain run leg. 

“I’d have to stand back and watch how able-bodied runners climbed up and over these boulders and then adapt it.”

Next February she is having another go at the individual two-day event, with organisers requiring her to have someone shadow her during the kayak leg for safety.

Adopting the moniker Limb-it-less Shaz Dagg, she has a new arm adaption for her bike and a new-design, 3-D printed arm extension for the kayak.

The extension is also being used by two other amputees who can now paddle a kayak.

Dagg uses her story and sport to challenge herself but to also motivate others to have a go at knocking down doors that get in their way.

She is also using her profile to raise money for Kidney Kids charity and has a givealittle page.

“I get up in the morning and come across challenges all day and I have to adapt. I love it,”

Dagg says.

Confronting those challenges rather than being bitter helps her be a better person.

“I’m always reaching for new heights. Why stop? No one should.

“You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”

She is not bitter at Palmerston North Hospital and has never considered taking a case about the delayed surgery.

“So many people have said I should sue somebody, but I can’t be bothered.

“It is not about the money. All I want to do is put all my energy into recovering.”

She is also not bitter at the circumstances around her initial injury and still helps out on her friend’s farm.

“It was nobody’s fault, it was a freak accident, that’s the way I look at it.”

This attitude has opened a whole new perspective on life for Dagg.

“I would never, ever turn the clock back. It has been the best four and a half years of my life.”

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