Catalogues showed off the green-eyed Melbourne model’s slim figure in lacy lingerie and ripped jeans. She dreamed of becoming an actress, and even trained for a year-and-a-half in Los Angeles.
“I was totally convinced beauty was about perfect. Perfect symmetry and gloss,” Courtney tells Mamamia.
But while on a spontaneous trip to the Caribbean, she was caught in a horrific golf buggy accident that left her without her right arm. The accident forced her on a journey to recovery that changed her view of beauty forever.
The night that changed everything.
Courtney, then 24, says she was relaxed and happy after a night out with friends in the Bahamas. The last thing she remembers is climbing into the rented golf cart to go home.
A police report details the crunch of metal as the buggy keeled over and the way she lay crushed and broken beneath the vehicle.
“I don’t remember any pain,” she says. “Just pressure.”
The damage was horrific: Courtney’s spine was severely fractured. Her brain was swelling. The former model’s long legs were torn and bloodied, her right shoulder crushed. Her once-perfect smile was filled with gaping holes where her teeth had been.
“My arm was torn off on the spot”
Courtney’s right arm was severed inches below her shoulder. A cut just a fraction higher would have slit her neck.
“I could feel my arm even though it was gone,” Courtney tells Mamamia, recalling the excruciating phantom pain she battled for weeks. “Even now I still do.”
The news from the doctors in Miami left Courtney devastated: the limb was too damaged to be reattached — and she would never have two arms again.
Learning to walk again: “I was very, very stubborn.”
For weeks, Courtney slowly shuffled to and from physiotherapy appointments, leaning on others and using wall handrails to stay upright.
She refused to give up.
“I was very, very stubborn,” she says. “Everyone was very annoyed at me. I wanted to do everything on my own.”
The former model made a pact with herself: she would choose to be happy.
About a month after Courtney returned to Melbourne, her hope and determination finally paid off.
“I decided, I’m going to let go of the rail and make it to the end of the hallway,” she says. “When I let go of the wall for the first time, that was a big moment for me.”
A daily struggle
A foreign world confronted Courtney at home.
She could not unscrew the lid from a jar. Peeling a banana filled her with dread. Her long chocolate-brown hair became her worst enemy when she could not tie it up.
“People would be sitting at the dinner table and someone would say, ‘would you like me to cut your food for you?’,” Courtney says. “It makes you feel degraded, you don’t feel good about yourself. You’re like a little child.”
Inner demons also plagued her with sly questions: ‘Can I work? Will my life be normal? Will anyone ever find me beautiful?’
She hated looking at herself in the mirror most of all, seeing only ugliness.
But Courtney’s parents and sister showed her their bravest faces. Her close girlfriends kept her busy and her boyfriend of 10 years, Blake Biedukiewicz, stood faithfully by her side.
“Life sometimes seemed impossible. Then some special person makes you laugh and reminds you that you are worthy,” Courtney says.
“You wake up the next day with a fresh start, promising to be kinder to yourself and knowing that each day will get better.”
“I never realised I could overcome something so big”
Courtney had once pressured herself to look a certain way. She wanted to be as beautiful as the people who graced the magazine covers and movie screens.
“I never realised I could overcome something so big,” she says of the accident.
“Someone once said (to me), ‘you have handled this situation with grace and courage’ and to me that is now a far greater compliment than being told (I’m) ‘beautiful’.”
Incredibly, her friends tell her she is more comfortable in her body now than ever before.
Courtney now dreams of a career in finance. She dreams of motherhood. She has learned her missing arm is only a small part of her story – one she hopes will help and inspire others.
“Life comes with many challenges and it is how we come back from them and what we make of it that truly defines us,” she says.
“I am an amputee. And I am beautiful.”
This article originally appeared on Mamamia, first published on 15 December 2014.