Victoria Milligan’s whole life changed when she was involved in a speed-boat accident in May 2013, in which she tragically lost her husband and her seven-year-old daughter; the accident also cost Victoria her left leg. Today she is a survivor and an inspiration. Victoria will be in Cape Town for the I AM WOMAN event, where she will be a keynote speaker. We caught up with Victoria to talk about positive thinking and why it’s more important than ever for women to get together and talk.
After your own experiences, do you find that having a peaceful and empowered state of mind is a daily task? If so, are there days that you feel overcome by what happened in your life?
My whole outlook on life has changed since the accident, I used to be a lot more anxious about everything. Raising four young children, having a high-achieving corporate husband and running a personal training business was very busy but I also put a lot of pressure on myself, striving for perfection wherever I could. I was fearful of everything; fearful of missing out or of the house not looking perfect, whether the meals I produced were good enough, was I good enough, were the children busy and stimulated enough? Now I am much calmer as I realise there is no such thing as perfection and I no longer have fear; I don’t worry about the small things in life anymore and appreciate everything that I have and am able to do.
Losing your mobility really makes you stop and take a new look at everything around you. I remember coming back from hospital after having had my leg amputated, and wheeling myself into my garden in my wheelchair and actually smelling the roses in my garden – I had never done that before, never realised how beautiful my garden was. It shouldn’t take major tragedy to make us stop, slow down and appreciate what we have. I want to urge everyone to stop striving for more, stop rushing around and failing to appreciate what you have; don’t take any of it for granted – you are so lucky to have what you have, your mobility and your loved ones. I still wake up some mornings, four and half years later, and cannot believe what happened to me; it seems so extraordinary that such a horrendous tragedy could happen on such a beautiful family day out. The accident took so much away from me but I also took from it a deeper appreciation of what is really important in life and what truly makes me happy.
Do you have techniques of battling those kinds of dark thoughts?
There are always going to be dark days and the trouble with grief and loss is that the pain is invisible so people don’t know when you are hurting. The dark days fortunately are further apart than they used to be and my life is expanding through the amazing new people that I am meeting on this new journey my life has taken. When I have the desperate missing and longing to hold Emily again or kiss Nicko one more time I have to remember that this feeling is important to connect with them and remember them; just because a person is no longer physically in our lives doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a relationship with them. I talk to them and write to them and always feel better having done so; the more we bury our emotions through distraction by being too busy or self-medicating through alcohol, drugs or any other means, the more those emotions are bottled up – including joy and happiness. I used to be terrified of my grief, but I have learned the path of grief gives you just as much pain as you can handle, only to pull away again, allowing you recover. Once I realised that grief could not kill me I wasn’t so scared of it.
Why do you think that right now, more than ever, it’s important to have platforms like I AM WOMAN?
I think I AM WOMAN is a vital platform as women are incredible! We can overcome any challenge that life throws at us, given the right support and advice. The human survival instinct is stronger than we think and the feeling of confidence that we gain from survival and achieving goals we never thought we would is indescribable and transcends across all areas of our life. When I first started running on my blade, it was agony; I hated it. But I just broke my training down into small achievable steps and eventually was running 10km. We all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone sometimes to see what we can achieve and who we really are.
What are you hoping to impart on the attendees?
I would like to impart to the attendees the knowledge that they have the strength and power to overcome any adversity in life. I want to share what I have learnt over the past four and half years on how to be resilient and adaptable. All of us have or will face challenges in life to varying degrees but I want to give people hope that we can not only survive it but we can learn from it too, we can become better, happier and more resilient people from facing and surviving it.
You’re travelling the world telling your story; does that sometimes feel a little unreal?
Adversity can make you realise you have hidden talents. I had no idea that I could talk on national television or stand up in front of an audience and give a motivational speech; it is incredibly empowering to realise what you are capable of. None of us know how strong we are until we are truly tested but we are all incredibly capable and able to do anything which we set out minds to.
Have you ever been to South Africa before? And what are you looking forward to most?
I went to a game reserve in the Kruger National Park for my honeymoon with Nicko so coming back to South Africa brings back happy memories. However I have never been to Cape Town before, and am so excited having heard so much about it. Accompanying me is the new very special man in my life who accepts me for who I am, is impressed and not daunted by my strength and resilience, and is incredibly supportive to me and my children. He has made me realise that I can have feelings for someone again and that I am not too broken physically and mentally as I thought I was. We are looking forward to seeing the sights, Lindsay from I AM WOMAN has organised a few tours for us around Cape Town and we are looking forward to visiting Stellenbosch too. I can’t wait to meet the strong and powerful women of Cape Town and to be part of the incredible I AM WOMAN!
Victoria will be speaking at I AM WOMAN on 2 December at 15h30 at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. This collaborative and inspiring platform was created by Lindsay Dibowitz, and brings together woman to inspire, encourage and empower women.
Marie Claire is giving away six tickets to this amazing event where you can hear Victoria story in person and network with other brave women. Simply answer this question and fill in your details before 30 November 2017.
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