STRUCK down by a horrific traffic accident when she was 23, Noosa's Clare Sultmann has defied the odds to walk again, have a family, become a barrister and published author of her own story of survival.
On the 17th anniversary of her accident, Clare is now celebrating another important milestone in her life - the launch of start-up website and app dear molly.
The app offers women aged 25-65 a one-stop-shop for advice and connections for women - helping them make friends and connections in their neighbourhood and online across the globe.
The dear molly name relates back to the life-changing accident and Clare's discovery of the true meaning of friendship.
Molly is Melissa Formosa - Clare's best friend since the age of 12.
Their friendship was tested by the extraordinary circumstances of Clare's accident and Melissa has been Clare's rock of strength ever since.
In August 2000, Clare was on her usual morning jog in Sydney's Bondi Beach when she was struck by a truck on a pedestrian crossing.
The truck stopped but on top of her, trapping both her legs under its full weight for 37 minutes.
Clare was conscious throughout the entire ordeal which, by some miracle, she survived.
After waking from an induced coma three days later at St Vincent's Hospital, she was told of the severity of her injuries.
Her first question was "Do I still have my legs?".
The answer was "yes .... but".
Among her extensive injuries, Clare suffered circumferential degloving of her legs from the knee to the ankle.
Her medical notes stated: "Not one bit of skin is left and her ankle bore the impact of the truck. It is crushed. The Achilles tendon needs to be re-attached, it is sitting next to her ankle in theatre."
One of her surgeons was so stunned by her injuries, his first thought on seeing Clare was: "She looks like someone we normally see in an anatomical dissecting room in a morgue".
Determined that she would not only keep her legs but would one day walk again on her own two feet, Clare and a dedicated medical team fought for 10 years and 37 operations to save her legs.
The accident left her with long-term injuries but also an awareness of exactly what mattered most, including the loyalty and support of those who rallied around when times were tough.
Her childhood friend Melissa, nicknamed Molly, was among those cheering Clare on throughout her recovery and Clare recounts a specific event that symbolises their bond.
"Shortly after the accident we were crossing a road. I could only muster a slow shuffle with bandages and casts covering my legs, so Melissa steps out in front of me, calling back in her loud school teacher voice: 'You've already been hit, I'll take the next hit for you'.
"Fast forward 17 years and here we are ... both married, with kids, full lives and still best friends."
Clare is now hoping others will find that level of friendship and connection through the dear molly site and app.
dear molly was also the product of Clare's personal experience of relocating away from a strong network of family and friends when she moved from Brisbane to Noosa shortly after having children and finding it challenging to meet like-minded women in her new home town.
Clare said she created the dear molly concept in response to her personal experiences which lead her to understand the importance of friendships.
"dear molly to me sums all things good about women," she said.
"My best friend Melissa, aka Molly, has been an enduring source of strength, support, loyalty and courage - all attributes and the level of support and friendship I hope to deliver to other women through the dear molly platform.
"Although I have been fortunate to know true and close friendships, I also know what it's like to be distanced from those friends and forced to make new female friends.
"Life events like relocating, having children or retiring can be lonely and isolating times for women.
"Just because you attend playgroups or social events, it doesn't automatically mean people share your interests.
"I wanted to provide women with a platform to share the real experiences of life with other real women and a place which helps women connect in person and online in an authentic way."
Via a targeted algorithm, dear molly aims to connect like-minded women based on their common interests online and then facilitate messaging between the new friends.
dear molly's profiling system also enables online conversations with other females from across the globe. Think a WhatsApp-style chat group but closed and with women with similar interests and backgrounds.
dear molly delivers its members quality and broad ranging women-focused editorial content produced by a variety of female professionals and experts in the field.
It will feature a dedicated forum program designed to get women talking with each other online about current affairs and female issues such as returning to work, career advice, travel information, mental health as well as having babies and parenting.
It will also offer members the opportunity to contribute articles.
Users take a short quiz to establish their interests and dear molly can then connect them with compatible friends based on the interests they nominate.
Members can also manually search for other members based on location, which can facilitate a meet-up in person or being able to message that person directly.
The dear molly member questionnaire also enables the website to connect women with common interests from across the globe through its chat function, which will regularly suggest conversation members and topics when membership reaches 500.
dear molly is also launching its partnership with national charity Youngcare, which is bringing much-needed change to the disability housing sector in Australia.
Clare will donate $500 to Youngcare for the first 500 members who sign up; a further $2000 when it reaches 5000 members and another $3000 when it hits 10,000 members, with the intention of funding special support programs for young people with high care needs.
Clare said she developed the dear molly concept because there was no comprehensive online platform enabling women aged 25 plus to make proper real connections, not just mothers but all women.
"Social media and networking sites are now an acceptable model to find friends but as we all well know social media is where people only showcase their best moments of their life.
"Very few, if any, websites offer both the ability to connect via an algorithm-powered matching process online as well as the opportunity for women to engage in forums and to benefit from sound advice through good articles written by other professional women."
For more information on dear molly visit dearmolly.com.
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