Sandra Tanguy’s life story has all the hallmarks of a rollercoaster movie: an inspirational, triumph-over-tragedy blockbuster that leaves its viewers motivated to change their lives for the better.
Sandi’s earlier life seemed as monochromatic as Dorothy’s Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, contrasting with the wonderful kaleidoscope of colour of her new journey following her own personal tornado – the crux of Sandi’s story without which there would be no before and after. And there very nearly wasn’t an after…
It is obvious from the outset that Sandi is tenacious and versatile and has never shied away from change when achieving her goals. From the greyness of Sale, near Manchester, where she spent her childhood, followed by the blur of hard work in Jersey where she spent the next 30 years juggling various business interests and raising her two boys – Sandi has always been a grafter.
Her work ethic extended to fitness and she began running with the Spartans Athletic Club at age 35, going on to complete the London Marathon. But rowing became her favourite sport and she joined the Jersey Rowing Club’s top team in a boat called, “Maid Tuin”. And win they certainly did, rowing to Sark and France as well as competing on the river Thames.
Never balking at change, when her marriage dissolved after 21 years and the boys had grown, Sandi embraced a new-found penchant for travel. And it was after a trip round Australia – where her son was cycling in the Under 18s Commonwealth Games – that Sandi returned to Jersey and met with the near-fatal accident that changed her life forever.
The accident – a fall on the stairs in Jersey in 2005 – left her with severe spinal damage and paralysis. She says she felt two cracks in her neck and knew straight away it was serious.
Her options were bleak: face life-threatening surgery or risk permanent paralysis. She chose surgery. Later, she was told she’d been half a millimetre away from severing her spinal cord.
Yet Sandi is now philosophical. And this she puts down to faith and believing that everything in life has a purpose.
“I now accept whatever life throws at me!” she confesses, “Since my accident, my attitude has changed completely. I am no longer a workaholic who tries to control every aspect of my life.”
Today, she remains indebted to those who helped her get through the gruelling months that followed, in particular, the round-the-clock care from The Family Nursing and Homecare Trust (FNHT) in Jersey – without whom – Sandi says, life would have been totally unmanageable.
“I just want to help others and I think that’s why I’m here,” says Sandi.”When I was lying in the hospital paralysed and scrutinizing the ceiling, I certainly didn’t realise what a fabulous journey I was going to travel on over the next eight years – I thought my life was over, but no, it was just beginning!”
There were periods of frustration when conventional medication did not alleviate the pain but left her merely feeling “dopey”. Within a year, Sandi felt compelled to seek alternative therapy. Barely able to walk unaided, she managed to fly to southern Spain to visit a health retreat promising rejuvenation, relaxation and a reawakening of the senses. There were daily massages (to aid circulation), yoga sessions and a pool. The retreat lived up to its promises, with an added bonus: the warmth of the sun helped ease her pain considerably. Within a month she realised her recovery process wasn’t just physical: she had also awakened a sense of spirituality. Having reached the age of 50, she says, life was only just beginning…
In a quest to improve her health, Sandi made several return trips to Spain to explore the mainland and Balearic Islands with her old Ford Escort cabriolet, eventually acquiring a small caravan on the Costa del Sol. During her travels she came across many interesting alternative therapists and developed a knack for networking – a skill she never realised she had.
“I get a strong feeling when I meet someone they may benefit from connecting with another person I’ve met, to help them in their struggle in life. I put them together and it always works. People tell me I have a natural gift for this.” She has gone on to set up numerous networking groups, helping people improve their lives.
Now, eight years since the accident, Sandi runs the day-to-day activities at a sunny retreat called the Refugio Plantación in Tenerife. The sanctuary is sheltered by the Adeje mountains with views over the Atlantic Ocean, although its precise location remains secret. In many ways, it’s similar to the health retreat where she began her metamorphic process less than a decade ago.
The location, amid the lush foliage of some mango trees and a banana plantation, assures total seclusion and it’s not even signposted (directions with appointments only). There’s a wide range of activities on offer from professional cycling training in winter, yoga and meditation, self-empowerment, addiction recovery, as well as various alternative therapies. There’s a chill-out terrace from where you can watch the sunrise and a private entrance for those seeking anonymity.
The Refugio is a non-profit entity, relying solely upon donations, ultimately benefiting charities in Tenerife as well as the FNHT in Jersey.
“I just want to help others and I think that’s why I’m here,” says Sandi. “When I was lying in the hospital paralysed and scrutinizing the ceiling, I certainly didn’t realise what a fabulous journey I was going to travel on over the next eight years – I thought my life was over, but no, it was just beginning!”
While her fitness probably aided her body in its recovery, Sandi then defied all her doctors’ expectations by going on to qualify as a Spinning and Swiss Ball instructor – just 18 months after her accident.
Sandi’s attitude is truly inspirational and she advises anyone who is struggling to have hope and faith. One day, she plans to publish her experiences in a book. Meanwhile, she doesn’t rule out a return to Jersey, after all, there’s no place like home …