WHEN he was a kid Jamie Manning’s grandfather nicknamed him ‘‘Dodge’’.
First as a teenager growing up in Scone he dodged those bigger than him on a football field.
Then for 15 years he managed to dodge the powerful hooves of a bucking bull.
Then, this year, he dodged death. His grandfather was a wise man and ‘‘Dodge’’ was a suitable nickname.
But ‘‘Lucky’’ might have been just as appropriate.
Call him crazy, but Jamie Manning, 39, considers the day he should have died his most fortunate.
It was three months ago, about 6pm on March 27, and Jamie was driving home to his farm outside Dubbo after helping out another farmer.
He doesn’t remember much, but what he has been told is an incredible tale of survival.
‘‘The police told me I’ve come off the road and have just been carted straight into a tree,’’ Jamie recounted yesterday from his room at the Graythwaite Rehabilitation Centre in Sydney’s north-west.
‘‘Now from that the fire started and it must have been up the middle of the car because it only burnt up my left side, this side here on my right is not touched. One fella came along from behind, he couldn’t get me out, he was an older fella, didn’t have a knife or anything, I had a seatbelt on and he couldn’t get it off.
‘‘So he went to the next house up the road and that fella came down and they couldn’t get me out. They went to the house across the road and the big fella in there – he must have been about 120 kilograms – grabbed me by the belt and just reefed me out. How? I don’t know.
‘‘Apparently I must have been that bad, I was burnt, I just said ‘leave me’. I don’t give up, but I must have been that bad, I just told them to leave me. He said no way and just reefed me out.
‘‘I’ve been told I was in the car while it was on fire for as long as 20 minutes. Apparently when I was on the ground outside of the car I said just put my hip back in, it was dislocated, and I’ll run down to the house and get Karen, she’ll fix me up.’’
Karen is Karen Manning, Jamie’s wife. The pair met at Tocal Agricultural College as 18-year-olds and have been together ever since. They have three young kids together: Jedd, 12, Braydon, 10 and Lori, 5. Since the crash and throughout Jamie’s recovery, Karen has been his rock and has hardly left his side.
But at that point, as Jamie lay on the road, a charred and bloody mess, Karen was wondering why her husband was running late.
‘‘That’s the one thing I feel really bad about,’’ Jamie said. ‘‘The worst thing was Karen came up looking for me, because I was late getting home and all she saw was my ute in the tree on fire, two police cars and a couple of other people standing around watching it. She collapsed in the middle of the road, she thought I was still in the car and they couldn’t get me out.’’
But Jamie was out and on his way to hospital in an ambulance, nursing a broken and dislocated hip, eight broken ribs, four broken vertebrae, bleeding on the brain and full thickness burns to 40per cent of his body.
‘‘I guess a lot of people look at something like that and say ‘that was the worst day of my life’,’’ Karen said. ‘‘But from the moment Jamie woke up from the induced coma he just had this attitude that it was the luckiest day of his life. Because he should have died that day. Or he should have at least had spinal cord injuries or brain damage.’’
During his six weeks in a coma, his brain injury recovered, his internal injuries improved and his lungs, which doctors told Karen could be the things that claimed his life, were left relatively untouched from infection.
‘‘I think on my side I was healthy before,’’ Jamie said. ‘‘I worked pretty hard and always stayed fit. I had a positive mind to get through it.’’
About a week and a half later the decision was made by doctors, with Karen’s consultation, to remove Jamie’s left leg. The doctors had tried to save it but it was severely burnt and was making Jamie sick.
Then his fingers on his left hand started to get infected, so those were removed too. There were 22 surgeries in all.
Due to the coma Jamie doesn’t recall there being too much pain. But then again, he is a man with a very high pain threshold.
A latecomer to bull-riding, Jamie first got on a steer at 17.
‘‘I played football for 10 years in Scone, always played sport, then for some reason I just went and got on a steer,’’ Jamie said.
‘‘And it just grabbed me, just the adrenalin that you get out of it, it just captures you.
‘‘I got on a few bulls, I think it’s the fear of dying I suppose, or not dying, just getting hurt, just trying to beat that bull that weighs around 1000kilograms.’’
Jamie spent 15 years riding bulls – including a period where he competed on the Professional Bull Riders circuit, the world’s biggest bull-riding competition.
He lived in America, based in California and Texas, and travelled the country competing, trying to hang on for eight seconds and collect some cash.
Then there was the time he broke a Guinness World Record for the longest time on a mechanical bull.
‘‘Two minutes and four seconds,’’ Jamie says proudly. That’s nearly two minutes longer than when you’re in the ring, but Jamie insists the machine is just as hard as the real thing, if not harder.
And the time at the Sydney Royal Easter Show that ‘‘Dodge’’, then weighing 50 kilograms, was thrown from a bull and gored in the back of the neck.
Aged 31 at the time, Jamie was rushed unconscious to hospital with spinal injuries as veterans of the rodeo circuit were labelling it one of the worst gorings they had seen.
But just hours later, after awaking from a coma, Jamie discharged himself from hospital and was back at the arena. He had snapped the wing of one of his vertebrae and walked out of the hospital in a hospital gown, cowboy boots and hat. The hospital had shredded the rest of his clothes.
‘‘I wanted to go and watch the next round of the bull-riding,’’ Jamie said. ‘‘That’s just us, we just sort of move on with life.’’
And that’s the plan again this time for the Mannings. Jamie is so far ahead in his rehab the doctors at Eastwood don’t know what to do with him. He is looking forward to getting his new leg and getting home with his family.
But the family residence will need some modifications to accommodate Jamie since the crash. That’s where the Scone community has stepped in.
‘‘When people found out it was Jamie they all wanted to help and began donating things,’’ Karen said.
From there the Facebook page Jamie Manning Recovery Auction was born and an auction in May raised $65,000.
‘‘They have been so incredible, the people of Scone,’’ Jamie said. ‘‘The financial support is one thing but the emotional support, of just knowing that I’m not going through it alone, I couldn’t have done it alone.’’
And now with a bunch of his recovery and rehab goals already ticked, the next objective is to go home and get on a horse.
‘‘I won’t be far off I think,’’ Jamie says with casual optimism.
Jamie has had his good days and bad since the crash, but doesn’t regret what happened to him.
‘‘There are people out there who have it much worse than me,’’ he said. ‘‘Besides it’s brought the family even closer together. I should have died that day, but I didn’t and I realise there is so much to live, living, seeing the kids grow up.’’