A TRAMPOLINE accident four years ago left Rachel Carroll with epilepsy – but she quickly bounced back to find another challenge.
The gymnast was getting ready for a competition when she sprung into the air to do a full flip but landed on her neck.
It led to a bout of seizures and a host of medication, and she admits her confidence was knocked for a good few months as she had to spend time off school.
But the keen student decided that she wasn’t going to be beaten by her ordeal but live life to the full.
She started sailing with Orcel Sea Training, which aims to help teenagers in Hartlepool develop skills and soon became secretary of the group’s youth committee.
Last year, she signed up to take part in The Tall Ships Races and spent five-and-a-half weeks at sea on board the Black Diamond of Durham, which is based in Hartlepool Marina.
The event saw Rachel, 18, sail between Belgium, Demnark and Norway before bringing the boat home to Hartlepool for the biggest party the town has ever seen.
And this year she is going back for more as she plans to sail from Grenwick in Scotland to Lerwick and then on to Stavanger, Norway, and Halmstad, Sweden, before bringing the boat back via Holland.
Rachel, who lives in the town’s Fens estate, said: “The fall really knocked my confidence, but I decided not to let it stop me doing what I want.
“Sailing has helped build me back up. I love it and want to keep doing more.
“The freedom you have when you are out at sea is hard to explain, you forget everything because you are focused on one thing and being part of the crew.
“The tall ships was one of the best things I have ever done and I knew straight away I wanted to do it again.”
Rachel has became so hooked by the sailing bug that she has taken part in a host of training that has seen her achieve qualifications as a day skipper and in first aid and survival.
The former Manor College of Technology pupil has balanced her new love with studying PE, photography and science at Hartlepool Sixth Form College and has had to use her holidays to practice sailing while also completing a Duke of Edinburgh Award.
However, those challenges are nothing compared to being out at sea during the races that can see awful weather, cramped conditions and little sleep.
The Black Diamond is only 45ft long and one of the smallest vessels that takes part in the annual race. With 10 people on board and hardly any space below deck, teamwork and camaraderie are essential for a successful voyage.
“I love it, I really do,” said Rachel, whose parents are nursery nurse Carole, 42, and Andrew, 43, a clerk for Asda.
She added: “There are four people on watch all the time so you have to work in a team and do your job because there’s only us out there and everyone has to pull their weight.
“With the boat being only small, it can be quite rough. When you’re in a force-10 gale and it’s bouncing all over it can be a bit worrying.
“We almost had to pull out last year because we had a rough time going to Denmark and a few things broke and we lost a few things as well.
“When we got there, some of the bigger ships crews came over and said ‘how did you manage that?’ We were quite proud.”
Rachel has had to raise £2,000 for her latest adventure and has been helped by Taylor Wimpey, Hart Biologicals, Gus Robinson and Hartlepool Round Table to get her closer to the total. She has £700 left to raise before her adventure starts on July 8 but is confident of reaching the total.
She added: “The fundraising is the hardest part in a way.
“I want to thank my friends, including teachers and staff at my old school Manor College and my family for buying raffle tickets and donating unwanted gifts to be sold at car boot sales.
“Without the help of those generous people, I would not have been able to take part in this year’s Tall Ships Races.”