Paralympian Vanessa Low lost her legs in a train accident. Her biggest adversity became her 'biggest opportunity'.

At 15 years old, Vanessa Low stumbled off a train platform into the path of a train. She lost both legs above the knee and suffered severe head and back injuries.

In a split second she went from being a German teenager who loved being active in a variety of sports, to fighting for life and facing a whole new normal. Her love for sports never waned though — she would eventually become a gold medal winning Paralympian

"My biggest adversity ended up being my biggest opportunity because it opened up a new world," she says on Mamamia's No Filter podcast.

Watch: Vanessa Low competing at the Paralympics. Post continues below.

Video via Paralympic Games. 

"I think this is how I still deal with adversity — I'm not necessarily searching for a silver lining, but looking for the differences that create new opportunities. It's my new life moving forward."

In the lead-up to the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, guest host Libby Trickett is jumping into the No Filter seat to talk to some of Australia's most incredible athletes — including Low. 

For a long time post-accident, Low struggled with her body image. 

"The biggest challenge was my mobility and returning back to school. I didn't want to use a wheelchair, I wanted to use my prosthetic legs. But it was much harder than I anticipated it being. It felt like the hardest thing in the whole world," the Australian-German athlete says.


"It took me five to six years to really overcome the lack of appreciation for the new body I had. I was never going to wear those 10 inch heels, or blend into a crowd. I didn't wear skirts or shorts or open shoes for a long time."

Amid the tough times in those late teen years, Low learned something profound about herself and her body. Despite two weeks in a coma, six months in hospital and undergoing nine surgeries, Low says the hardest part of her journey was rediscovering belief in herself and her abilities.

"When I got introduced to prosthetic running legs, made of carbon fibre, I really started to embrace my new body. I realised my human legs simply cannot be replaced ever. It was okay to stand out, and it gave my new legs the meaning they deserve."

Vanessa Low today. Image: Supplied.


Low's achievements are outstanding. She has gone on to become a Paralympic gold medallist and world record holder in the long jump. 

Today she is still the only above knee amputee, single or double, to have jumped over the five metre mark. She says athletics gave her a second chance in life, helping her regain direction and purpose.

As Low notes during No Filter, labelling someone solely as "inspirational" based on their disability can reduce their identity to that one characteristic and overlook their other qualities, achievements, or struggles. And while it may be well-meaning, calling somebody inspirational on their appearance or disability alone can feel patronising.

"So many people over the years are continuously asking me how I managed to overcome the adversity. But that's really missing the point because I never tried to overcome it, because I knew that was not possible. What I really learned through the accident is that sometimes things just happen. Life just changes," says Low.

And life certainly has changed for Low in recent years, as she is a new mother. 

The upcoming Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will be Low's first time competing since becoming a mum.


Vanessa Low with her family. Image: Supplied.

"I had lost a big part of my mobility in the back end of pregnancy, because I couldn't fit into my prosthetic legs anymore given the swelling and weight gain. Incorporating our son Matteo into this athletic journey, there's big learning curves. But we've found a really good system that works for us."

Low's husband, fellow Paralympian Scott Reardon, also plays an important role in Low's athletic career. Not only is he her partner, Reardon is also Low's coach.


"Our relationship is really founded on friendship and big trust. Anything we do together is so much easier because the foundation was already there," says Low.

"We're always going to disagree at some point, but I'm really excited for these games because this is the one that I feel the deepest in my heart. It was so challenging in some aspects coming back from pregnancy and birth. But now having my husband and my life partner by my side every step of the journey, it's so great."

Low knows just how much it means for many to see themselves represented in the Paralympics. It's a topic close to her heart, and she reflects on what she hopes her legacy will be in the future.

"If anyone would ever have looked at me about 20 years ago, that 15-year-old kid that had no legs, they would have never guessed that I was going to show up for the Paralympic Games competing for medals. I want the world to see people like us compete there and know they all have a choice to create something really amazing," she tells No Filter.

"It doesn't have to be gold medals — just pursuing something that's close to your heart. I feel Paralympics has such great power in that space, because you can see our adversities. But you don't just see the adversity — you actually see what we can all do if we keep on pushing ourselves."

You can listen to full interview on Mamamia's No Filter now.

For more from Vanessa Low you can visit her website here and Instagram here.

Feature Image: Supplied.