THREE years on from the accident that changed her life forever, Melanie Woods is looking forwards rather than backwards.

Hit by a car while out on a cycle in the Highlands in January 2018, the then 23 year-old suffered a serious spinal cord injury that has left her paralysed from the waist down.

She spent the next seven months in hospital convalescing and undergoing draining and intensive physiotherapy. Rather than wallow in self-pity, however, the former PE teacher took the opportunity to realign her life goals. A sports enthusiast, Woods travelled to Colorado to learn how to sit-ski and started playing tennis.

It is wheelchair racing, though, that has become her focus. Back living in Glasgow, Woods joined up with the Red Star club and committed herself full-time to learning this new discipline.

There may come a time, she concedes, when she may have to consider returning to work. But, for as long as she is making incremental progress, the British 400m bronze medallist wants to devote as much time as she can to the track. The recent announcement from British Athletics that she had been awarded a place on the Paralympic Futures Academy Programme was a vindication of that decision.

“I’ve put off getting back into work for now in pursuit of something that I enjoy,” she says. “I don’t know how long that will be feasible for but it’s my focus for now. I want to see where racing takes me.

“After my injury I felt it would have been unrealistic to work a day job and also train. Or, if I had, it would have been a lot tougher to make a success of athletics.

“Getting on the Academy programme helps on that front. But mostly it’s just nice to get recognition that you’re on the right path after choosing to devote all your time to one thing. You do wonder sometimes if you’ve done the right thing!

“I’ve played team sports all my life so when I took up wheelchair racing I wanted to prove to myself what I could do. And that’s stuck with me. I’ve got into a routine and getting consistency with that. I’m learning what best motivates me.”

There remain, naturally, physical and mental challenges three years on from that life-changing accident. But Woods remains upbeat about her change in circumstances and the opportunities that have arisen as a result.

“I would say I’m still adjusting,” she admits. “I’ve settled into a new lifestyle but new challenges come up every day that I would never have thought of a year ago.

“So it’s a continual adjustment to a whole new different life. One of the first things I learned to do was drive as I knew I was going to need my independence. And that makes a huge difference in being able to go where I want, when I want.

“I had to change my perspective on what I thought was important and what gave me happiness. Now I’ve got a whole new list of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have my injury. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard. But it’s about trying to move forward in my life and make the most of it.”

After the frustration of 2020 when most events were cancelled as a result of the pandemic, the Anniesland-based athlete hopes this year will provide fresh opportunities to race, even if the Paralympics will likely come around too soon for her at this stage.

“My main aim for this year – as it was last year – is to travel and compete internationally. I just need to build up my race experience as I’m pretty new to the sport. The one I’m really looking forward to, hopefully, is Switzerland which is a popular event on a really fast track.

“Tokyo is maybe ambitious! That would be a bit of a push at this point in my career. There are European standards that need to be met. There’s a European competition that’s at the back of my mind and I’ll see if I work hard how close I can get to qualify for that.”

Next year’s Commonwealth Games are also in her sights, with her first marathon pencilled in as a trial.

“That’s definitely a target for me,” adds the Rodger Harkins-trained athlete. “There are two events in my class so the aim this year is to try to fit a marathon in and see if that will set me up for qualifying times. Wheelchair racing is different to running in that you wouldn’t normally be able to do a 1500m and a marathon. This is more like cycling where you can try different events and see how you get on.

“I’ve taken encouragement from the progress I’ve made in just a few years. I know it will become harder to make improvements as time goes on. But I’m looking forward to giving it my best shot and seeing where it takes me.”