Joel Legg faced a gruelling mental test after a motorcycle accident, but the 18-year-old had tools to manage his emotional wellbeing that he learned in therapy after his best friend died in 2022.

These skills helped Joel during his intense recovery, with mood management linked to faster injury rehabilitation.

Now, just six months since he was battered and bruised in hospital, the keen water skier can feel free again on the Murray River with his mates and family. 

Joel Legg says he feels at home when he’s water skiing on the Murray River.(Supplied: Joel Legg)

Joel grew up in South Australia’s Murraylands in the small town of Cadell, learning to shred it up on the mighty Murray at five years old.

In September last year, he was riding motorbikes with his brother at their family’s farm in Morgan.

“I was watching the other paddock and by the time I looked forward he had stopped and I hit him once,” he said.

“I was going to hit him again so I jumped off.

“His tyre sat on my leg and when he powered on to get out of the way, I was dragged through rocky, bushy ground.”

Joel had severe burns on his leg and ankle, broke his wrists in seven places, and endured a stage three shoulder dislocation.

Two emergency surgeries later and nine days in hospital, he faced a physical and mental battle.

Joel says recovering from his injuries took mental and physical effort.(Supplied: Joel Legg)

But Joel had experience reaching out for help — he went to a psychologist after his best friend, Jai, died in an accident.

“I felt huge relief straight away. Just talking about your feelings instead of keeping them bottled up,” he said.

Joel had a new set of tools to help him cope in tough times, which he used to keep “a level mind” after the motorcycle accident.

“It helped me process everything,” he said.

“Mental state’s got a huge impact on recovery.”

During Joel’s recovery, he suffered a setback due to an infection that required another surgery.

“He was really disappointed and felt fatigued with the journey he found himself on,” Joel’s mum, Barb Legg, said.

“We spoke about how it takes more energy to be down about it than to keep moving forward.

“To motivate and be proud of how far he’d come in his recovery, to move forward with his goal at the forefront of his mind.”

Joel says therapy helped him learn to talk about how he feels.(Supplied: Joel Legg)

Healing the body with the mind

Sport psychologist, Harley de Vos, said there was strong evidence supporting the relationship between mental health and injury.

“Prolonged stress and depressive symptoms like low mood can actually hinder our physiological ability to recover from injury,” he said.

“If we’re only working on the physical, we may actually not be making our optimal recovery.”

Mr de Vos said it was a normal response to feel flat, sad, and stressed following an injury — for professional athletes and the general population.

He said people should treat themselves gently.

“There is really good help available and you don’t have to do it alone,” he said.

“Try to treat yourself like you would someone who was really close to you.

“If we can be kind to ourselves, I think that can help to alleviate some of the distress we might experience as a result of the injury.”

Joel says being a part of Ski for Life motivated him to push through challenges.(Supplied: Joel Legg)

Joel worked hard mentally and physically with support from his loved ones.

He persevered through setbacks to build muscle on his legs and strengthen his core with a goal to get back on the water.

That happened in January, surrounded by the family who helped him through.

“I was ecstatic,” he said.

“I felt at home. I was free.”

Joel will soon participate in Ski for Life, an annual three-day event where hundreds water ski 456 kilometres up the Murray River from Murray Bridge to Renmark for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

“To see him finally get back out on the water, it’s the best feeling,” Barb Legg said.

“A big part of [Ski for Life] is the mind. If you set your mind to something, you can overcome great things.”

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