Growing up, I did not identify with disability, but at the age of 24 that all changed.
One fateful night, feeling the need for a bit of excitement, I made a homemade bomb out of chemicals and a gas bottle and exploded them. That's the short version.
The reality was a bit more complicated. As the gas bottle exploded I was thrown six feet in the air, blacked out and then hit the ground haemorrhaging and in agony. I was air lifted to Melbourne Hospital where I was put into an induced coma for just over a month. Over the course of the next six months I had several operations, survived fevers, infections and hospital food! I then had 8 months in rehab trying to rebuild my life.
The legacy of the explosion and the very bad choice I made? I lost most of my fingers and both of my legs. My hearing is now impaired and I have scaring and injuries over large parts of my face and body. My world had changed completely and forever. It was as if I had woken up from the trauma of the accident with a new identity; the challenge was going to be 'where to from here'.
As I sat pondering my fate one day in rehab, a stranger wheeled through the ward faster than lightening. "Ýou'd be a good candidate for Wheelchair Rugby" he said, threw a card in my direction and was gone. Stunned but excited by this chance encounter I eventually followed up on this opportunity and the rest as they say, is history.
I am currently a member of the Victorian Wheelchair Rugby Team, competing both nationally and internationally and hope to be selected for the Australian Wheelchair Rugby Team competing in Rio at the Paralympics in 2016. I'm currently in the USA honing my skills with Wheelchair Rugby Teams there before returning to Australia in late March 2014.
Without doubt my involvement in sport, specifically Wheelchair Rugby, has changed my life. It has given me a purpose for living, kept me fit and active, given me hope, introduced me to new people and opportunities, and enabled me to travel.
Through sport I've also found motivation, determination and dignity.
Life after my accident?
Coming out of the protected yet cloistered environment of hospital and rehab, what I wanted most was to reclaim my independence. My quest led me to:
- Buy a car and have it modified with hand controls
- Get my licence for this new car
- Go back to TAFE to complete my electrical apprenticeship
- Complete nationally accredited training - a Certificate 1V in Workplace Training and Assessment
- Complete a Leadership Program; and most significantly
- Start my own business as an inspirational speaker; and
- Gain selection for the Victorian Wheelchair Rugby Team
While I may not have been a philosopher before my accident, the journey from adversity to hope that I have experienced has certainly made me one. To anyone wanting to become involved in sport, life is short and sometimes fragile. Have the courage to follow your dreams.
In terms of key messages, please let me share with you the messages which continue to motivate and guide me:
Look forward, not back
Set your goals high and expect to achieve them
Believe in yourself
Surround yourself with people who are supportive, inspiring and wise
Invest in yourself - keep fit,eat and live well, learn new skills, gain new qualifications, challenge your thinking
Have fun - spend quality time with family, friends and strangers