EMMA Carey was five days into a three-month European backpacking holiday when she went on a tandem skydive in Switzerland.

“I’d always known I was going to skydive in this exact place ... I wasn’t nervous I was just so pumped to get up there and do it,” she says.

“When we jumped out I remember it was the most incredible feeling ... the free fall is so peaceful, you are just so present in the moment.”

But the feeling of euphoria was short-lived for the 20-year-old backpacker.

“When he pulled the parachute it was so confusing for me, I didn’t know what to expect because I had never done it before,” Ms Carey says.

“I felt us slow down a little bit but the chute wasn’t above us where it should be and my instructor wasn’t answering me. The closer we got to the ground, I realised something was really wrong.”

While they are still not 100 per cent certain what happened, it seems that the instructor pulled the parachute a little too late, and it got tangled with the emergency chute that had been triggered at the same time. The parachutes didn’t open correctly and instead got tangled around the instructor’s neck, strangling him until he passed out.

Emma hit the ground, hard. She landed on her stomach and the instructor landed on her back.

To a certain extent she broke his fall.

Unlike the instructor, Emma never lost consciousness. She was awake for the entire ordeal.

“I kind of wish I did pass out so I didn’t remember it all,” she says.

As they didn’t land in the designated spot, it felt like an eternity before anyone came to their aid.

“We were in the middle of a field, so we had to wait for my best friend (who was jumping after me) to land and get to us. They eventually managed to flag down some people nearby and use their phone to call the rescue helicopter.”

Emma broke her back and got a spinal cord injury at L1. She broke her sacrum, pelvis and jaw and shattered her teeth.

After a month in hospital in Switzerland she spent a further three months in hospital in Sydney.

Doctors told her she was paralysed from the waist down and would never walk again.

But four months later, she took her first steps — initially with the assistance of a walking frame, then with two crutches, then one crutch, then unassisted.

While most people presume that leaving hospital and heading home would be a high point in her road to recovery, she says that this was actually her darkest time.

“I got home from hospital and realised that every single aspect of my old life had changed. I could no longer walk around the house I used to live in, some of the friends I used to have weren’t there for me, I wheeled past the streets where I used to run, I couldn’t go back to work: every part of my life had changed and I had to find a way to be OK with that,” she says.

“Learning how to find new things which brought me happiness and contentment was hard to do, because for 20 years of my life I had always just turned to sport and moving my body. I learnt a lot from it though because it taught me not to rely on certain things for happiness and that I had to find it within myself. That way it could never be taken away.”

When speaking to Ms Carey it becomes immediately apparent that her sunny disposition and positive outlook helped her overcome adversity.

Now 25, she has amassed 109,000 followers on Instagram who are fans of her inspirational story and her art.

Despite the fact that it’s been almost five years and Ms Carey has “healed” a great deal, she still suffers from ongoing complications and pain, which she manages through massage and stretching. (“I try to avoid painkillers.”)

She also suffers from “bladder and bowel stuff ... I have a catheter ... it’s really time-consuming and you need a lot of equipment ... it’s been a weird thing to get used to,” she says.

“I get infections from the catheter and I get injured a lot more easily now,” she explains.

Ms Carey will be participating as an ambassador in the Wings for Life World Run which is taking place on Sunday, May 6.

“It’s for spinal cord injuries — basically it’s a run for people who can’t,” she says.

“It takes place all around the world at the exact same time — I’ll be starting at 9pm in Melbourne, but other people will be starting in the middle of the day in other countries.”

“It’s also a bit different because there’s a ‘catcher car’ that starts afterwards — you go as far as you can before the car ‘catches’ you. Some people will only go for a short time and others run marathons,” she says.

“Last year I did it in a wheelchair, but this year I’ll be walking.”

She also now has the date of her accident tattooed on her arm.

“A lot of people thought it was odd that I would want such a ‘bad’ date tattooed onto me forever, but the way I see it is that it is the date I could have died but didn’t.

“It is the date I realised my love for life and became the person I am today. I now call it my re-birthday. It is also a gentle reminder that every day I am on this earth after June 9 is a blessing”.