The Warwickshire mum-of-three feared her broken back meant she would never walk again, let alone retain her status as a top triathlete.
But within 12 months she has bounced back to win a silver medal at the European Championships.
Emma’s remarkable recovery owes as much to her dogged determination as it does to the state-of-the-art spinal surgery she underwent at University Hospital in Coventry.
She said: ‘The first hurdle was being able to stand long enough to cook dinner, then to drive a car for the school run.
‘I didn’t expect to compete again – but I hoped I would.’
Emma crashed her cycle just six weeks after finishing sixth at last year’s European Championships. She remembers nothing about the accident but believes she blacked out as she rode into Stratford town centre through rush hour traffic.
‘Considering where I crashed I’m lucky to be alive,’ she said.
Emma, aged 36, was rushed first to Warwick Hospital then onto Walsgrave where she received urgent treatment for bleeding on the brain. Scans revealed she had fractured her spine five times in two places and it was three weeks before she was stable enough to go under the knife.
When the surgeons eventually operated on August 3 they rebuilt her spine using cement before inserting pins and screws to strengthen it. The team used pioneering keyhole surgery, working through small incisions and navigating using X-ray photographs that they pieced together to form a 3D map of her insides.
Emma, who lives in Stratford, said: ‘I’m so lucky they brought me to Coventry – I wouldn’t have got this operation anywhere else.’
The former marathon runner took her first steps two days after the operation and was back in the pool within weeks of leaving hospital.
Emma had to start slowly because she had lost so much weight and muscle tone, but by December she rapidly progressed to swimming 4,000 metres in 90 minutes.
The following month she climbed back into the cycle saddle, before resuming running in February to complete her triathlon comeback.
‘There were points when I got frustrated and angry, or wondered whether I might be doing myself more damage,’ said the chiropractor who works in Shipston-on-Stour.
But her hard work paid off when Emma won the silver medal in her age category at the European Championships in Spain on June 25.
She swam 750m, cycled 20km and ran 2km in a combined time of one hour, 17 minutes and five seconds.
‘When I registered I looked at the other athletes and felt a bit disappointed because I thought I could have won a medal if I hadn’t got injured,’ said Emma. ‘To actually come away with silver feels incredible.’
Now Emma aims to compete at the World Championships in New Zealand next year.
But first she will put her reputation on the line when she races against the team of medical experts who rebuilt her to launch her Back for the Future campaign.
She aims raise Â£80,000 for the neurology department at University Hospital.
Neurosurgeon Hussien El-Maghraby said without the operation Emma could have been paralysed and open surgery would have involved cutting through 20 inches of muscle, leaving her too weak to compete.
‘Keyhole surgery certainly enhanced her chances, but without her motivation we wouldn’t be here today,’ he said. ‘I don’t think we will ever see another patient like this.’