A SCOTS graduate who survived a horrific snowboarding accident which broke her back is now bidding to become one of the world’s top names in windsurfing.
Sophia Joy Gilje is competing in the Professional Windsurfers Association (PWA) world tour which kicked off last week in Tenerife.
After years of training to get herself in shape Miss Gilje, who is the only British representative in the competition, said she is now able to “follow my dream.”
This is the 25-year-old’s first time surfing on a worldwide platform having only recently returned to the sport following an accident which left her with a broken back.
The only representative for Britain in the world tour, Miss Gilje is already ranked as second in Britain and third in Europe.
However, the “accident prone” sportswoman, who still gets pain in her back, has another injury to contend with on the tour having broken her foot just weeks before the competition started.
The St Andrews Sustainable Developnment graduate was seriously injured in 2008 when she attempted a 20m big air jump in the Pyrenees while preparing for the French national snowboarding championships.
Overshooting the landing slope, Miss Gilje broke both her back and arm.
Miss Gilje said it was her competitive nature which had led her to take the risk that no other professional women snowboarders had dared.
She said: “It’s the biggest of the park and it was my last run of the day and I wanted to win the competition.
“The organiser told me to start way too high -much higher up than the boys – and therefore I had so much speed.
“They said no one had ever flown so high and far ever, so I was lucky it wasn’t any worse.”
She added: “For 3 years I couldn’t do any sport or anything requiring much physical activity because my back was always hurting and even going to a cafe with friends was painful.
“Now it is much better and I can do everything except I still get pain sometimes. It is alright though, because I am free to do everything I love, which is the most special thing ever, after being ‘imprisoned’ for so long.
“Now I am finally free at 25 to follow my dreams and I know where I’m going.”
But now after intensive training and physiotherapy Miss Gilje has beaten the odds and is ready to take on the world – with her broken foot.
She said: “A couple of weeks ago I crashed into rocks and fractured the middle bones on my foot. Now I am able to walk on it without it hurting too much, but I wasn’t able to sail to test it for the competition though.
“It will obviously affect me quite a lot through the tour since wave riding and jumping requires your feet to be in full form but I am going to do my best.
“Although I don’t want to get it worse. I also broke my hand in October – but that is good now. ”
“I’m maybe a bit accident prone, although I guess if I had a normal, non-risk taking lifestyle I would be safe.
“I always injure myself either snowboarding, skateboarding or windsurfing.”
Miss Gilje spends hours every day making sure she is in top condition for her sport.
She said: ”On an average day I do yoga in the morning, then I have a good, big breakfast and then windsurfing. Sometimes I have to train in the gym too, if there is not any wind.
“I need to do a lot of stretching too, which is very important, especially for me with my back.
“I also do a lot of swimming and try to swim underwater for as long as I can. It’s really important incase I get trapped underwater.”
Last year Miss Gilje made her professional debut at the Tiree Wave Classic windsurfing competition in the Inner Hebrides.
Despite only at the start of her career, Miss Gilje has already got a string of fans supporting her.
Support from her family and friends has also helped her reach her dream of becoming a professional windsurfer.
She said: “My family is the biggest support to me. They really want the best for me and that is to fulfill my dreams.
“Also because of all the tough times I went through before now with my injury which was bad for 3 years and also having to study intensely until last year with pain in my back.
“My friends are great as well. Most of them don’t windsurf so it’s quite funny the different lifestyles we live.
“I’m non stop travelling all over the world searching for wind and waves and most of my friends live in cities.”