A strong fighting spirit and belief in the power of positivity may have always been part of Angus Rigney, Myall Plains, Nindigully, but when he faced his toughest hurdle yet, it was these qualities that saw him come back from the brink of death.
In the early hours of July 24, 2017, Angus was traveling from Paradise Lagoons Campdraft back to his feedlot job at Gatton when his vehicle left the road and collided with a tree on the D'Aguliar Highway between Blackbutt and Yarraman.
Some three hours later a police officer would find him trapped in his vehicle, and another two and a half hours would pass before he was freed from the wreckage.
Reflecting on the journey from that crumpled Land Cruiser ute to life just over 12 months on, Angus said he had come a long way, but life was still unsure.
“It was a fatigue accident - I just fell asleep and hit a tree, and it pretty much turned my life upside down,” he said.
“Somehow I was home for Christmas and we still don’t know how, but we thought that was pretty good.”
Flown to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane in a critical condition, which saw his heart stop beating twice between the helicopter pad and emergency department, Angus’ recovery in the four months after his accident was nothing short of miraculous.
Both of Angus’ femurs were smashed at the hips, requiring titanium rods and screws to be put in both legs from hip to knee, and his skull was shattered like a jigsaw with bilateral bleeding on the brain that would later be diagnosed as a Traumatic Brain Injury.
These days he may be a little slower and not able to hold a drivers licence because of a severed optic nerve, but Angus said life was looking good.
“I'm not going to lie, it sucked, and it was probably one of the most gruelling things I've ever been through,” he said.
“I'm an inch and a half shorter and unfortunately, with the eye sight, that's something that's not going to change.
“But other than that, everything's pretty right and I just take it steady.”
Leaving school at 16 and spending four seasons in the Northern Territory as a ringer before going bronc riding full time shows Angus was never meant for a desk job, but the accident has seen him change direction.
“I miss it all because that's all I've ever known, but I've just got to take a different angle to where I wanted to go beforehand,” he said.
“I got accepted into Marcus Oldham for next year to do agribusiness which is a massive achievement for me.
“They don't normally take anyone that hasn't finished school, but the fact that I've got ground experience and done a few little things here and there, I reckon it's going to be a big thing for them, and for me, to step in 18 months after I had a life-changing accident.
“We’ll see what happens and hopefully I can get back into the rural industry that way.”
For Angus’ parents, Ian and Sally, the journey from that life-altering phone call to as close to normal as possible has been a tough road, but they are extremely proud of how far Angus has come and of the future he is striving to create for himself.
We know how incredibly lucky we are and that makes every day a good day.Ian Rigney
“We would like to thank everyone who has helped us along the way from the policeman who held Angus’ hand at the scene to all the emergency and medical staff who worked to first save him, and then to help him recover.
“We were shown so much kindness by so many, and remain grateful for living where we do.”
Sally said the entire family hoped Angus’ story would make people think twice.
“Driving huge distances out here is just part of our lives and if Angus’ story makes one young person think twice, or take action earlier when fatigue sets in, then we would be very happy,” she said.
Looking at the photo of the wreckage, Angus said he still couldn’t believe he made it through.
“I never should have gotten out of that wreck alive, and I’m more than lucky,” he said.
I'm not a religious person, but someone was watching me that night.Angus Rigney
Hoping others would learn from his accident, Angus said sometimes you just have to be late for something.
“The biggest thing I can say is don’t try and be a hero and get everywhere,” he said.
“It is okay to stop and have a sleep and it is okay if you miss the odd thing.
“All through my life I've pushed hard and probably pushed the limits too hard, and the one time I thought I wasn't pushing the limits is when I came unstuck.”
It’s been a gruelling 12 months, but Angus said he’s looking forward to the future.
“Don't count me out just yet, I'm coming back,” he said.