For the love of life

In an instant life as they knew it changed for the Manning’s, but it was never going to be the moment that defined them. After a lifetime of overcoming adversity, they saddled up for this challenge with a sense of love and determination to make the most of life.

From the moment Karen and Jamie met as fresh-faced 18-year old’s at Ag college, their relationship was destined to be far from normal. The first date to McDonald’s and the car running out of fuel was a pretty good indicator.

However, this wasn’t the only love that Jamie found during his time at Tocal Ag College. A fierce competitor from a young age, the chance to head to a local rodeo and compete in the steer riding provided the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I decided to get on bulls and it just went from there. That challenge, Man Vs Beast, the comradery, the mateship and everything that goes along with it”

Jamie riding a Bull in Australia. Photo: supplied by the Mannings

Jamie pursued the rodeo life, heading to America for up to six months at a time. Rodeoing in Texas, New York, competing up to four times a week against the best riders in the world, it was everything he imagined. 

“It was bright lights, big crowds. It was the place to be”

Despite injury setbacks, Jamie continued to compete, at one stage even claiming a Guinness World Record for the longest ride on a mechanical bull as he overcame a broken neck.

He doesn’t regret any of it, the only thing he does regret, was the time he spent away from Karen and his growing family.

Jamie in his colours as part of the Australian rodeo team. Photo supplied.

After a few years on the circuit, Jamie recognised he was getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’ but wasn’t willing to give it up, often one last ride would lead to success and see him continue on the dream of still competing at the top level in Australia at the age of forty.

“I sort of joke that there was actually nothing wrong with his left leg and his left hand. I just had the doctors amputate them to make sure he stopped bull riding” Karen laughs

On the 27th of March 2014, Jamie was heading home from work at the Dubbo Saleyards when his life changed just 3 kilometres from his home.

An oncoming truck forced Jamie from the road, his car colliding with a tree and bursting into flames. 

As he faded in and out of consciousness, Jamie battled to get his seatbelt off as the car’s centre console burned.

“I thought to myself, if I don’t get this seatbelt off, I’m gonna die”

It was Jamie’s neighbour that came to the rescue, Jamie recounts the memory he has as he faded in and out of consciousness. Battling the flames he reached in as he tried to free him from the burning vehicle.

“At one stage I said, mate, if you don’t leave me, the car’s going to blow up and you’ll die with me”

Jamie and Karen in Hospital following the accident.

During it all, front and centre in Jamie’s mind was saving his wedding ring, laughing as they recount the story.

“Jamie was known for losing his wedding rings, a few years earlier he had his wedding ring tattooed onto his finger so that he wouldn’t lose it anymore.” Karen laughs

As she made her way to Jamie’s bedside in Dubbo hospital, she had an inkling to walk around and look at his finger.

“His whole hand was black and charcoal except for this one band around where his wedding ring goes, it was untouched”

“For me, that was a sign that he’s got this, he’s not gone”

Jamie arrived in Sydney where a team of more than 37 doctors were waiting for him as he headed into life-saving surgery.

With burns to more than 40% of his body and numerous injuries including significant head injuries, the odds were set against him.

True to form, Jamie’s strength and determination got him through the six weeks in a coma, and then through his extensive rehabilitation in Sydney’s North Shore Hospital.

“I remember being in hospital and I was just like it’s a big nightmare, I want this nightmare to end”

Jamie, Karen and their three children during the recovery. Photo supplied

Never for a moment did Jamie concede, instead returning to life as normal was a driving factor.

“I’ve got to get home, get back home, get back to living and get back to the family. That’s what got me through” he said

He set the goal that 12 months post-accident, he would return to riding a horse. Achieving this he moved on to his next goal, the first family holiday would be riding their horses from Tilpa in outback NSW back to Dubbo in Central West NSW.

Today, life’s normal for the Manning’s. Karen has found her calling, working in the rural mental health space, supporting farmers in great Western NSW, Karen saw an opportunity to channel her passion for supporting people doing it tough.

“I thought I could make a difference to people out there, since then, I’ve gone on and now work for the Royal Flying Doctors and as an alcohol and other drugs clinician,” she said

Jamie hopes that through sharing his story he can inspire others to chase their dreams, despite their setbacks.

“We all have places we want to be, whether that’s a nice house or whatever your goal may be. Just because you have one hiccup doesn’t mean that goal is over”

Jamie on horse back ready for his big trip.

As both Karen and Dodge say, you never know where life is going to take you, so….

“Get out there and go get what you’re after in life”

Listen to the podcast with Jamie and Karen on your favourite podcast app, or via the link below.

Published by Oli Le Lievre

Oli is the Founder and creator of Humans of Agriculture. He's passionate about celebrating the diverse and vast opportunities in agriculture, one story at a time.

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