“After 6 years of pain I preferred to be amputated”: the inspiring story of the woman who lost a leg and became an Olympic athlete

Shona Brwonlee suffered a fall at the end of her military trainingbut didn’t give it much thought. After years of chronic pain, she made a life-changing decision that would lead her to participate in the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games.

Shona had passion for playing the horn since childhood. “Music, it was the only thing I wanted to do“, it says. “My evenings and weekends were occupied with orchestra practices and concerts.”

Shona, from Livingston, Scotland, studied music at the highest level, first at the Birmingham Conservatory in England and then at Arizona State University in the United States.

But the life of freelancing it was hard Orchestra musicians only charge for one or two rehearsals before a concert and then for the performance.

She knew of friends who joined the Air Force as musicians, seeking stability.

“You are in uniform, but you have rehearsals, concerts, trips and world-class bands.”

Shona joined the air force as an aeronaut. Even with the focus on music, she had to meet the same requirements as all recruits and complete basic tests before she could play.

Reaching the end of the basic tests, he began to imagine what his musical career would be like.

And then he fell.

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“It was a simple accident,” he says of his fall from a loading dock. He didn’t give it much importance. His ankle hurt, but he assumed he had a sprain and he would recover soon.

I know reason herself to finish training and joined the band.

but cso I can’tito walk.

Shona was referred to a rehabilitation center where she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, which caused her persistent and disabling pain.

The treatments didn’t work either. “I stayed on crutches with a leg that did not walk.”

He continued in the air force, but was sometimes unable to act and march, one of the key components.

Six years later, with no success with treatments, Shona’s medical team told her that “there was nothing else that could be done”.

But Shona knew that was not so true.

She had veteran friends “double or triple amputated who were much more functional than her because they had prosthetics,” she says.

And he remembered a joke from years ago: “They should cut it off.”

Shona knew it wasn’t entirely a joke and decided to have her leg amputated.

Shona Brownlee in her air force uniform

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“Back then I was a bit horrified and I thought that I would rather have a loose leg than be without a leg”, but when time passes you think “it wouldn’t be so bad”.

Shona began researching the possibility of amputation and when she decided it was for her, she told her medical team.

It took “a bit of convincing,” talking about the advantages and disadvantages, talking about the possibility that it might not work and he would not get used to a prosthesis.

Shona was prepared to take a risk.

“After six years on crutches it seemed like there was no decision to make, because my leg was not working,” he says. “I had nothing to lose.”

“I chose to have my leg amputated below the knee.”

Shona comments that the decision helped her to assume what the operation that would change her life would be like.

But even though she was convinced, she felt nervous on the day of the operation. She had no idea if she would work and leave her pain free.

After waking up from anesthesia, Shona looked down. “There was a weird little lump where her leg should have been, but I remember thinking it didn’t hurt, which was a good sign.”

Shona spent a week in hospital, followed by six weeks in a wheelchair, to ensure the injury healed before receiving the prosthesis.

“I adapted better than I expected,” he explains. “It was weird at first,” and he had to learn to take care of himself to avoid blisters and sores. “But within a couple of months, the feeling was normal.” So normal that he was even able to march with the army band for the first time.

While Shona was doing rehab, she saw an ad from the Air Force, which said that they give help to the injured, through sports and adventures as part of recovery. This one in particular advertised a ski trip to Bavaria (Germany).

Shona Brownlee competing in the 2022 Paralympics.


Shona signed up. “It was going to be 10 days to enjoy, but this was the beginning of my skiing career.” Shona tested the adapted ski – with a seat mounted on top of a ski – with two adapted stabilizers to coordinate balance and steering.

“I wouldn’t say I picked it up very quickly.” Once you find your balance and your center of gravity, it’s fine. I remember being upside down many times, sliding down the mountain and ending up in ditches.

Despite the accidents, someone saw potential in Shona and introduced her to the Para-Snowsport team, which provides ski opportunities for injured people, as well as trainers and equipment.

Between work and recovery, Shona started training seriously with the help of the Para-Snowsport team, and this led her to the British team, with whom she competed in world championships and the winter Paralympics in Beijing.

Shona is now part of the Army Air Force Elite Team program, which allows her to take time off from assigned jobs and train full time. She was also named an Army Female Athlete in 2021.

As much as Shona would have liked a gold medal at Beijing 2022, the most important thing for her is the experience. “The end goal? Go back to the band and play music again.”

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