Janine Lee Shepherd, AM (born 1962) was a champion Australian cross-country skier until she suffered major injuries when hit by a truck during training. Before the accident, she had been considered a strong chance to win Australia’s first ever medal at the Winter Olympics. Though she was told she would never walk again or have children, and doctors had significant doubts as to whether she would survive at all, she defied all of these, and her story later became the focus of national attention, as well as a popular telemovie.
Shepherd had been an athletics champion as a child, winning several national titles by the age of 10. Though she was talented at a number of sports, she settled on cross-country skiing. After achieving some success, she was given the offer of training with the Canadian team in the leadup to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
In 1986, Shepherd was cycling through the Blue Mountains in New South Wales as part of her training regime, when everything changed. She was hit by a Vehicle, suffering massive injuries. She suffered a broken neck and back, lost five litres of blood, suffered severe lacerations to her abdominal area. Her right leg was ripped open, her collarbone and five ribs were fractured, and she suffered serious internal injuries. Doctors at first thought she would not live, but she pulled through. She was then told that she would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, and would never bear children.
Over the next few years, Shepherd began to go through the slow rehabilitation process. She was determined to defy the predictions set by her doctors, and succeeded in doing so. She was ultimately able to walk again, albeit with a slight limp, and has three children. She gained her pilots license within a year of the accident, and went on to gain an instructor’s license, eventually becoming a trained aerobatics flying instructor. She also became the first female director of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Shepherd has written four books about her experiences. The first, Never Tell Me Never was made into a successful telemovie, with Shepherd being played by Claudia Karvan. She also has a university degree in physical education.
She was a torchbearer at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney. More recently, Shepherd took up dressage in an attempt to represent Australia at the 2004 Summer Paralympics, despite suffering from chronic back pain.
Shepherd has received numerous awards, such as a 1998 ‘Outstanding Young Persons of the World’ award from Junior Chamber International. In 2001, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her work as the patron of the Australasian Spinal Research Trust. Shepherd is now a regular on the Australian motivational speaking circuit, and currently resides in the Southern Highlands of NSW.