A SUCCESSFUL triathlete who broke his back while sledging near Ilfracombe lay frozen in the snow for three hours before being transferred to hospital.
Ilfracombe postman Tim Reed, 42, said his partner Rose was convinced he was going to die as he had difficulty breathing and drifted in and out of consciousness.
Tim, a member of North Devon Triathletes and winner of the 2012 Sea Ilfracombe triathlon, believes he is lucky not to be paralysed after the accident at Willingcott Valley golf course on Sunday, January 10.
He has also issued a stark warning to anyone who goes sledging on unfamiliar ground.
Tim had gone out sledging with his three children aged six, 11 and 13 and his partner Rose's child aged nine.
He said: "We'd been sledging happily for two hours and having great fun.
"I sledged down the hill at the end to join the kids and take them home when I hit a bump and flew into the air.
"I hit the corner of a ditch and stopped dead. I knew straight away I had broken my back, I heard it go.
"I had also bitten my tongue and blood was coming from my mouth."
Tim said he was in serious shock and absolute agony and was unable to move.
He said: "I gave the kids my mobile and told them to call an ambulance.
"They actually called my partner Rose and she called the ambulance.
"Some people in nearby houses had also seen what had happened and they came out and put coats over me.
"I was lying in the snow for three hours and was absolutely frozen.
"When the ambulance crew arrived they couldn't give me intravenous morphine because I was so cold."
Tim said his partner Rose thought he was going to die as he struggled to breath and drifted in and out of consciousness.
Tim was taken to North Devon District Hospital by land ambulance where he stayed for two days.
He was then taken to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital where he has had an operation to insert two screws and a metal plate into his back.
He said: "The x-rays showed that I crushed one of my vertebrae and compressed another.
"Some of the shrapnel from the crushed vertebrae hit my spinal cord.
"I'm extremely lucky not to be paralysed or in a wheelchair for the rest of my life."
Tim, who is a regular with the North Devon Triathletes, said lying on his back for days has been extremely difficult.
He said: "It's been terrible, my worst nightmare.
"I took my first steps on Friday and managed to go ten yards but it was extremely painful.
"I will be off work for three months and can't do any sport during that time either.
"I dream about the accident every night and feel the pain, it is very vivid."
Tim said he wanted to use this as a chance to warn others of the dangers of sledging.
He said: "You just don't know what's underneath you, you need to know it's safe.
"I would advise anyone thinking of going sledging to make sure they go with friends, take a mobile phone and make sure you are wrapped up well.
"I was so lucky, this could have been so much worse."
The night before the accident Tim signed up for the North Devon AONB Marathon and while he concedes that he probably won't be fit in time for that, he hopes to compete in the Ilfracombe Triathlon in September.
He said: "You've got to have a goal and given that I won the Ilfracombe Tri last year this would be a good event to come back to."