17 January 2023

Surfboat rower faces long road to recovery after freak accident

| Zoe Cartwright
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Vesna Andric in the ICU following her surfboat accident. Photo: Supplied.

Tathra surf club member Vesna Andric faces a marathon rehab, after a freak rowing accident left her critically injured.

The dedicated surfboat competitor made it to the fourth day of this year’s George Bass Marathon when tragedy struck.

Her teammate, Kate Whitton, said the crew had completed the Narooma to Bermagui leg on January 4, and were making their way into the beach.

“We were close to shore when our sweep was thrown from the boat and we were thrown sideways,” she said.

“This rogue wave came and flipped the boat and the full force of that hit Ves.”

Vesna Andric, Kate Whitton, Kim Burhop, Suzie Hides with support boat driver John McKee before the accident. Photo: Supplied.

Despite the gruelling, unpredictable nature of the George Bass Marathon, serious injuries are relatively rare.

But a serious accident in the water is no small thing.

The impact from the boat smashed Vesna’s pelvis, fractured her ribs and caused internal bleeding.

Thankfully the Tathra men’s open team were watching from the shore.

Four of the team members were paramedics, and immediately swung into action.

“They immediately went to Vesna’s aid and treated her as a suspected spinal injury from the beginning,” Kate said.

“We are so thankful they were there and able to care for her the way they did until the on-duty paramedics arrived.”

Vesna was taken to the intensive care unit at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital – but not before she told her crew to get back out on the water and finish the event.

Down a rower, the women managed a historic win for Tathra. The club has never had a win in the marathon before, but this year both the women’s and the veteran men’s teams came out on top.

“We’ve trained for two years for this event, because of COVID, getting up at 5:15 twice a week as well as training Saturdays and Sundays,” Kate said.

“Vesna is the most genuine, giving person, a wonderful teammate and friend, and very loyal.

“To win is an amazing feat, even amongst the trauma of this horrible accident to Ves.”

Tathra women’s rowers Penny Green, Megan Hergenhan, Lou Strachan and Kelli Rieck. Photo: Supplied.

Vesna has since had surgery to reattach her spine to her pelvis and has been moved from the ICU to the orthopaedic ward.

Doctors haven’t been able to give a long-term prognosis, but her recovery and rehabilitation will be a long process.

When Vesna is more stable it is hoped she will be transferred to Canberra or the South East Regional Hospital so she can be closer to home.

Before the accident Vesna had begun a new job at the South East Women’s and Children’s services in Bega, helping victims of domestic violence.

Now her teammates are calling on the community to support her through her recovery and associated costs.

They have started a GoFundMe page, with the blessing of Tathra Surf Life Saving Club and the George Bass Marathon organising committee.

It has already raised more than $30,000, and Kate said Vesna was overwhelmed by the support.

“Vesna herself would never ask for help, but we are doing it for her,” Kate said.

“The support of the Tathra Surf Club and all of the surf club communities up and down NSW has been truly amazing, as well as the George Bass organising committee, they have been so supportive and helpful.

“Everyone’s got behind us so much, Tathra and the wider Bega Valley Shire community – when things like this happen we do get behind each other.”

Head here to make a donation towards Vesna’s recovery.

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