By Bobby Ellis  |  BSU at the Games

Australian-born Peter Atkins has a big dream—to compete on the Australian Equestrian team during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Atkins in surgery.

Peter Atkins gives a picture of himself and his horse Henry—whom he hopes to ride in the Olympic Games—to doctor Matt Parmenter as appreciation for his work on his ankle. Photo by Bobby Ellis.

But as Atkins hobbled into the Southern Indiana Surgery Center in Bloomington on May 21, crutches under each arm, his right leg wrapped, he looked anything but an Olympic hopeful.

Atkins, 46, has been trying out for the Olympic Games since 1986 and this year qualified to compete in Three Day Eventing, a mix of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. His last obstacle was to qualify for the team, but tragedy struck on April 16. While working with his horse, Henry Jota Hampton, Atkins was injured in an accident, breaking his fibula and tibia in his right leg and damaging his right ankle after his horse spooked and fell on top of him.

Despite the severity of the injury, Atkins did not realize he was hurt until he saw his ankle flop to the side when he attempted to stand up.

“I just kept thinking one really bad word over and over and over,” Atkins said. “It was one of those quick-falling-backward falls where you couldn’t get off. I thought, ‘This is a stupid way to get hurt.’”

Atkins’ horse was unhurt in the fall but with Atkins injured, the pair was forced to scratch their team-qualifying event in England where they were set to fly to the next day. Atkins underwent surgery the same day as the accident but felt that his ankle wasn’t healing the way he wanted it to. That’s when his friend, anesthesiologist Beatrice Travis, recommended he talk to Dr. Matt Parmenter of the Southern Indiana Surgery Center in Bloomington.

“He was the first surgeon who believed me when I said I was going to ride in two weeks no matter what,” Atkins said of Parmenter.

Parmenter agreed to work on Atkins’ ankle pro bono since Atkins is not covered by American insurance and would not be able to afford the procedure on his own.

“He’s up against a wall,” Parmenter said when asked about the pro bono job. “I’m just hoping for a thank-you.”

The procedure Parmenter performed on Atkins was not a difficult one. Atkins was put under anesthesia and had bone marrow removed from his ankle with the help of a special needle. That bone marrow was then put into a center fuse and mixed with chemicals to draw out special stem cells from the marrow. Those stem cells were then injected back into Atkins’ ankle in an attempt to speed up the healing process.

“He’s our fourth case,” Parmenter said. “I think I can have him riding in three weeks.”

The surgery lasted about 40 minutes and went smoothly, with Atkins fast asleep and snoring

An X-ray shows Atkin's ankle after surgery.

under the anesthesia. Before going into surgery he gave his credit card to a nurse in the center and had her order lunch for the staff. Along with that, Dr. Parmenter received the thank-you he was looking for. After awakening from the procedure, Atkins gave the doctor a gift: a signed photograph of himself and Henry during a competition.

Atkins and Henry will be competing in the final qualifying event in Germany this month to attempt to make it onto the five-man Olympic squad. Despite the challenges, Atkins is optimistic about his recovery.

“I’ll enter that (the event) no matter what,” said Atkins. “Besides, the horse does all the work. All I have to do is stay on top and support what the horse is doing.”

As Atkins recovers from surgery, his horse Henry is currently overseas training for the event in Germany.

Dann Denny of The Bloomington Herald-Times contributed to this story

Bobby Ellis is a junior photojournalism major at Ball State University. Follow Bobby and the BSU team at @BobbyDEllis@bsuatthegames and