Di Schaeffer reached out to all of her medical contacts and family. She had a cousin who is an orthopaedic upper limb surgeon and this cousin convinced the head of trauma at Royal Adelaide Hospital to operate. A Swedish compression plate and six screws were the hardware inserted into Wendy’s badly broken leg. In addition, an electromagnetic stimulation coil was added. This coil was way out there and mightily controversial. The idea of the electromagnetic stimulation coil was that it just might speed up bone cell regeneration. A fairly controversial theory, however, desperate times called for desperate measures.
To cut a long story short, Wendy did ride on the Australian Olympic team in Atlanta and absolutely led Australia to a team gold medal. Wendy’s score on Sunburst was the best Australian score, and had the scoring system not been changed from the previous Olympics in Barcelona, Wendy and Sunburst would have won the individual gold medal as well.
How do you do something like that with a badly broken leg? Well, with incredible courage and determination and also a mum who is a physiotherapist and who absolutely refuses to accept defeat. Throughout Di’s whole life she understood that what is not possible for people who think conventionally was sometimes possible for people who were prepared to think outside the square. Oh, my goodness, that is the impossible journey!
In 2008, Wendy’s baby brother, Tony, married Christy. So, 2009 was a huge year for Di as her daughter-in-law Christy gave birth to Isabel on 25 December that year. For Christmas, Di officially became a grandmother! By 2012, she was in for another great shock as her second grandchild, Beau, was born on 25 July. This really made it clear that Di was a grandmother.
In 2013, Di’s high-performance program was completely turned upside down. Wendy married Nigel McDonald, a chartered surveyor and an Englishman. So Wendy moved to England. This really changed the equation for Di. Well, not to worry, she got on with building up another team of eventing horses here in Australia using local competition riders in South Australia. Wendy would in turn come home every year in October and stay until December to campaign the Australian-based horses with Di calling the shots.
As always, Di calling the shots could from time to time be less than diplomatic. The secret to Di’s program was that it dealt with the truth more explicitly than most people care to live with. The problem with the truth is that most people don’t want to hear it and most people spend the bulk of their lives avoiding it. Diplomacy is usually a mix of half-truths. In other words, Di did not have a lot of time or energy for diplomacy! So, from time to time, or occasionally more often, Di calling the shots could cause an inexplicable explosion with Wendy, which would easily register on the Richter scale. When this happened, everyone in the vicinity would head for the hills because neither of the Schaeffer females would take any prisoners. Personally, I think Bob and Tony were quite remarkable in being able to stay alive!
In 2019, Di became Chair of Eventing South Australia. That year, Di’s high-performance program scored a wonderful shot in the arm as Wendy and Nigel come home from England to South Australia. This did look as though the old Di Schaeffer high-performance program was winding back up to give us another lesson in just how you go about changing Australian history.
In December 2020, Di drove from Adelaide to Wallaby Hill 3DE with a truckload of horses. On board was Wendy, who slept for much of the trip because Di wanted her fresh for the competition. The drive from Adelaide to Wallaby Hill (which is just south of Sydney) is a solid two-day drive. Shouldering most of the driving was Di. Tough as an old boot!
I was there at Wallaby Hill competing as well last December. I was also part of the World 3DE Championships squad at Gawler in 1986 when Di had her first start for Australia. I have been competing against Di and then Wendy for the past 40 years. Di and Wendy went into action at Wallaby Hill like a well-oiled machine. Di reverberated with energy and as always was fascinated by the competition and the people and the horses. I cannot believe that less than four weeks later she just got up and died.
Di Schaeffer made a difference to lots of people and we can all safely say that she is one of the warriors who helped steer the sport of eventing here in Australia to what we all love and enjoy today. Di’s two grandchildren called their grandmother “Di Di”. None of this granny stuff.
Thank you, Di, we will so, so miss you.