STROKE victim Narelle Collard has become a glittering model for embracing individuality.
Literally a model.
And literally glittering.
Because Narelle has been shortlisted for the Miss Diamond Australia Beauty Pageant.
And while she admitted the prospect of gowns and sparkling crowns were a drawcard, she said the true prize would just be walking out on that stage.
Walking is something Narelle will never, can never, take for granted – for a while just walking out her front door was a challenge.
And that was after she had overcome the bigger challenge of walking at all.
The story of the new Narelle began four years ago – on New Year’s Day.
Strolling home with her mum and two young sons from celebrations at her sister’s house, she was on cloud nine.
As soon as she arrived home, she flopped on a couch to rest her aching feet – and that’s the last thing she remembers.
It could have been the last thing – full stop.
Today Narelle now knows how lucky she really was – and is.
Her fainting spell had been sparked by an aneurysm, an artery in her brain ballooning and weakening until it slowly began to leak, causing her to pass out.
Rushed to the hospital, doctors clipped the artery with seconds to spare before it ruptured – and killed her.
Instead she got to wake up hours later in a hospital bed, a constellation of beeping lights and monitors around her – and her left arm frozen by her side.
“They told me they’d clipped the aneurysm so I thought, ‘all good, I can walk’,” she recalled.
But she quickly discovered that wasn’t the case.
Narelle was trapped in bed for four weeks before physios eased her onto her feet and started teaching her to walk again.
An act which had previously been second nature suddenly became the toughest thing she had to do since her stroke.
Pushing against the water, she strained every weakened muscle, each step an agony as she inched her way to her goal – and finally touched the other side.
“I just burst into tears,” she said.
“It was such a small distance, but it was so hard. I’d taken walking for granted all my life and didn’t realise it could be so difficult.”
On top of learning to walk again, Narelle faced the multitude of challenges brought on by her now-paralysed left arm.
Like putting on a bra.
Tying up her shoelaces.
Or hugging her two little boys.
“There were plenty of times I was just exhausted and wanted to give up because life as I knew it was over,” she said.
“I used to cry myself to sleep or cry out to God, ‘Why me?’”
Hitting rock-bottom, Narelle found a lifeline in the Stroke Foundation.
Through the support of other stroke survivors, she fought her way out of the dark depression which had come to cloud her life.
And then she started to prove all her doubters – including herself – wrong.
Five months after the stroke, she rode a horse again, her face sore from smiling as she cantered across a field.
In July 2017, she married the love of her life, Damien – the man who has quickly become one of her greatest cheerleaders.
And she can finally play with her two sons (Zander, 8, and Cohen, 10) again.
In fact, she’s the most energetic mum out there, play-wrestling the two boys on the lawn or piggybacking them both (in a fit of giggles) around the pool at family barbecues.
It’s hard to believe just a few years ago she could barely struggle across the width of a pool.
Circa 2018 Narelle is on a roll, living her life to the full and always looking to test herself – and that includes applying for the Miss Diamond Australia Beauty Pageant.
Stumbling across it while trawling online recently, it instantly caught her eye.
The pageant celebrates the beauty and diversity of every woman – something Narelle had initially struggled to celebrate in herself.
After the stroke, her paralysed left arm and rolling left leg became an inescapably painful reminder of a life changed forever.
She initially strove to hide these new disabilities from the world; now she’s taking them on stage and into the spotlight.
“This pageant will be a huge challenge, going out on stage with this arm,” she said.
“But you can’t hide this arm. I tried, it doesn’t work. I had to learn to treasure my new self, disabilities and all.
“By entering this pageant, I want to encourage people to love their disabilities and know they can still be beautiful with them.”
Making it to the list of finalists – and with the pageant fast approaching in April – Narelle needs your help to make the final cut.
As part of her application, she’ll be raising funds for the organisation that saved her life – the Stroke Foundation.
On Friday, March 23 Narelle will be holding a fun family night out at Gravity Shack from 6-8pm.
For information, visit facebook.com/donate/2057535891236757/ or contact Narelle on 0481289750.