In 2009, Kellie Mencel was involved in a serious car accident when she was 17 years old.
She fell asleep while driving her car through the South Australian countryside going 100 kph (roughly 60 mph).
Kellie told BuzzFeed News:
At the time, I thought this was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I was 17, just about to go into my last year of school, and now I had a fear of driving and getting in a car in general.
After a week of being bedridden, Kellie’s family decided to take her away to their cabin, to unwind and forget about the crash. Little did they know the teenager was about to be involved in an even more horrific accident.
While at the cabin, Kellie decided to go waterskiing, but their boat wouldn’t start. All of a sudden, it exploded and burst into flames.
Left is a view of the McBean Pound on Murray River in Blanchetown, South Australia, where the accident took place. On the right is the boat Kellie was on, photographed by a Blanchetown local.
Kellie spoke to BuzzFeed News about the explosion:
I remember the flames coming towards my eyes and all I could do was close them. I tried to jump out of the boat into the water but I slipped. I looked back to see my dad and my legs were on fire. As I jumped into the water I went into shock. My dad was still stuck on the boat. I was just screaming and screaming.
A nearby boat came and rescued us but as soon as I got out of the water the pain became so bad I thought I was dying.
The media was quick to get to the scene, which made everything worse: "The last thing I needed was people trying to take photos of my burnt face, and body," Kellie told BuzzFeed News.
The first stages of recovery were the most difficult for Kellie:
People were telling me I was a miracle and a strong person. So I tried to act like a strong person, but deep down I was dealing with PTSD, depression and anxiety. It was a year or so after that I actually let myself go, I let myself be upset and stopped being this "strong person" everyone perceived.
Kellie's physical recovery was a long process, including years of hospitalization and outpatient treatment.
I had to learn how to walk again. I wasn't allowed to have my burnt skin in the sun for two years. So I would be covered head to toe in clothing and with an umbrella. I definitely got a lot of stares, especially with pink skin, missing hair, and no eyebrows. I had to moisturise my skin five times a day for two years after.
Throughout her recovery process, Kellie claims there were two things in particular that helped her through her experiences: her family and exercise.
Her dad, who was there when the accident happened, was also a massive help.
"We were going through this together and not once was he thinking about himself," Kellie said. "I will forever be grateful for their help, love, and affection during this time."
When Kellie returned to school it was a struggle to get back to her normal routine.
I had no eyebrows and my skin was still very raw. I got looks from people who didn't know what happened because I was wearing compression bandages, gloves, a hat, and carrying an umbrella.
Kellie told us that girls on opposing basketball teams wouldn't want to defend her because of the way she looked, and they'd make horrible comments about her appearance.
But Kellie never let that get her down. BuzzFeed News asked her what goes through her mind when she looks at her hospital photos, and she replied: "That I’ve come a bloody long way!"
The 22-year-old is now studying fitness and nutrition and she works as a personal trainer. Her Instagram is filled with inspiring posts about self-care, fitness, and positivity.
We asked Kellie what inspired her to become a personal trainer:
Living a healthy and active lifestyle is what helped me get through all this. Exercise is the most effective anti-depressant but the least used! The most rewarding thing in the world for me is helping people achieve there goals, release all those endorphins and to feel good about themselves! It's what I love and am so passionate about!
Throughout her recovery process Kellie has learnt that it’s what's on the inside that really counts, but she did add: "I've learnt how to draw my eyebrows on pretty well!"
Kellie is able to find the positive side of what happened to her, because without the accidents she may not have found her passion for health and fitness.
For anyone going through a recovery process, Kellie says it's best to surround yourself with positivity and loving people.
She said that it's important people live life to the fullest, because we're only on this Earth for such a short period:
I've learnt to take risks and try to be fearless in my everyday life because I want my life to be meaningful. I try to inspire and motivate people to live a healthy, active life, because that is what helped me, that is what got me through. Recovery takes such a long time, mentally and physically, but things do get better with time! Trust me!