Barrier-free spine surgery for the junior paddler


Local kayaker Natalia-Drew Cole has had great success on the water despite recent spinal surgery.

Yarrawonga Mulwala Canoe Club junior paddler Natalia-Drew Cole has proven that nothing can stop her when it comes to her love of canoeing.

More than months after undergoing spinal fusion surgery, Natalia-Drew competed in two canoe-kayak national champions winning two.

Natalia-Drew won para junior gold medals at the Gold Coast Marathon Championships and two open para women’s silver medals at the national sprint championships in Adelaide as there was no para junior class in the races of sprinting.

Natalia-Drew has been a member of the Yarrawonga Mulwala Canoe Club for several years racing against fully capable paddlers but was only classified as a para class athlete this year after the club worked with Paddle Victoria to establish a para class for the juniors. .

Natalia-Drew Cole in action at the National Sprint Championships in Adelaide.

Once the club was able to resume paddling after the multiple covid lockdowns, Natalia-Drew was one of the first juniors to be back on the water even if only for a few minutes.

She worked hard throughout the summer with the goal of qualifying for the national championships. That paid off for Natalia-Drew who won gold in the para junior category at the marathon championship in the short and long course events last month.

But that wasn’t enough and soon after traveling to Adelaide, not an easy task for someone with back problems, to compete in the national sprints, running against open women, she was able to finish second against older, stronger women in the 200 and 500. meter events.

Natalia-Drew was found to have a stable L5 spine defect at age 9 which presented as scoliosis/lordosis. Although stable, it caused a few issues growing up where she was limited to non-impact sports, so finding the kayak at the start of year 7 was great.

In early March 2021, she slipped, causing her L5 vertebrae to slip and crush her spine and nerves, leaving her a paraplegic on the move, numb from the waist down, but in severe pain. It took a bit of planning and surgery was arranged where they fused L5-S1 and were able to release pressure from the spine and nerves.

They had her walking within 12 hours of recovery and things were fine and she was released. Unfortunately, there were several setbacks and a few complications, but she persevered with the support of her surgeon who was happy that she was a paddler, being one himself. The surgeon said she had great core strength, which he credited with helping save her from a more serious injury.

Once Natali-Drew was on the mend, recovery instructions were, to get her back to paddling, first on land with a machine, then once it was deemed safe to do so on water, sometimes these sessions only lasted a few minutes, sometimes longer. .

Her successful recovery has allowed her to continue doing what she loves, using muscle memory to start when there was no sensation and even now that sensation is starting to come back in some areas but not all, as it there are still damaged nerve pathways. which may never heal.

His official diagnosis is now called spondylosis (a painful condition of the spine resulting from the degeneration of the intervertebral discs.

Yarrawonga Mulwala Canoe Club coach Tim Roadley said Natalia-Drew is truly an inspiration.

“Every week she would show up, some days her condition made it too difficult to even stand up and go on the water, other days she only had enough energy to do a short paddle” , said Tim.

“It all came down to mastering your technique, it was an extremely difficult challenge to figure out how to paddle without using your lower back, which is a cyclical part of paddling.

“I had to teach myself to paddle without turning my back, so we worked on his power and using the time on the water as best we could.

“The work we have done has also been noticed by Paddle Vic and they have identified our club as a club to run their information session on paddling for all abilities which was successfully held last Sunday,” said Tim.


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