Lesley, one of 170 students who will graduate at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus on Saturday, will receive a University Medal after achieving First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Social Science.
She has also received a scholarship through the Aged Services Learning and Research Collaboration to complete a PhD focussing on older parents of ageing people who have disabilities.
Lesley, who worked in community development in the Mid North Coast throughout the 80s and 90s, began studying in 2001 after an accident on a yacht left her with a broken back and incapable of work at that time.
"The accident happened in Pittwater. My husband and I had been in Sydney and we were on our way back up the coast. We were about to sail north and then off into the Pacific for a couple of years. Everything was ready, it had been a dream for 25 years to go sailing," Lesley said.
"I was hit on the head by the boom and landed on the gunnel (edge of the boat) and broke my back in several places. I was in hospital for several months and then spent more time in a spinal injury unit.
"I couldn't sit or stand. I was lying down for most of the time."
To pass the time, she enrolled in Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Social Science degree.
"I just wanted to move on and leave it all behind. I really have used study as a distraction from the pain and frustration."
Now, after recovering physically and completing her degree, she has set her sights on a PhD, which she hopes will contribute to finding solutions for older parents of people who have disabilities.
"I know there are lots of families in the community whose adult children have disabilities, but their children aren't young anymore. The parents are in their 60s and 70s and they feel quite trapped.
"An older mother who is 70 or 80, for example, might have a son or daughter with a disability who is in their 50s or 60s. She can't even die in peace because she doesn't know who will look after that person when she's gone," she said.
"I want to identify what the issues are for these parents and to explore some solutions."
As for sailing, Lesley and her husband still have their yacht but are looking to downsize to a smaller vessel.
"It scared us both that something so awful could happen so simply. But we still love sailing and intend to do more."
The Coffs Harbour graduation ceremony will be held from 10.30am in the D Block lecture theatre on Saturday, April 8.
Awards will be conferred by Southern Cross University Chancellor, the Honourable John Dowd AO QC. The occasional speaker will be Dr Judy Henderson AO, the chair of the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority.
Graduation ceremonies will be held at the Lismore campus on April 21 and April 29.
Media contact: Brigid Veale SCU Communications Manager, 66593006 or 0439 680 748.