In 1996, at the age of twenty-five, I was preparing to travel to the USA with my team mates to represent Australia in a sport that I loved - lacrosse. I was passionate about my sport and was looking forward to the next part of my life as a dedicated athlete. In the blink of an eye my life turned upside down. I was involved in a fall over a ballustrade, through a void, pin dropping three stories down to a concrete basement, laying motionless. I was rushed to hospital, placed into intensive care, paralysed from the neck down and breathing with the help of a ventilator, trying to hold on to what I now know, was my life. It is a surreal feeling to look back at that time, I had no idea what was happening, I drew on every ounce of strength I had, to stay alive. At that moment I considered my life, all that I had not yet accomplished, and giving up was not an option - so I fought.
I am blessed that I had wonderful people looking out for me that night, my brother and a close friend, a policeman that just finished his CPR refresher the previous week, performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, saving my life. It is a miracle I survived, and from that day forward I have been grateful for a second chance at life, albeit very different.
I had faith and I truly believed I would overcome this life changing set back
I was extremely fortunate to be raised in a loving family and surrounded by a wonderful support network, living in a bubble of family, sport and friends. Through the sporting club environment I established life-long friendships, team-mates became like family and mentors, both good and bad, teaching me valuable life lessons. Looking back on the victories and the defeats, the injuries and the comebacks, I now understand how I navigated the initial shock. I had trained my entire life for this one moment. The strength I gained from defeats, injuries and disappointments enabled me to fight, draw on every positive moment and not settle for second best.
I didn't accept my diagnosis or any negative talk about my recovery, and was prepared to do whatever it took to get back to some kind of normal, my new normal.Some say I was in denial, I described my outlook then as one of optimism. I was determined that zero balance, paralysis and a new accessory called ‘a wheelchair’ would not define me. It took me nearly 5 years to come to terms with the reality that I was destined to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, and I was not going to sit around and watch the world go by. Mind you, I still have a pair of runners on hand, just in case.
Acceptance is a powerful virtue. I could only begin to heal after I accepted my circumstance, and embraced my new, blessed life. I began to appreciate every moment, every slight movement and cherished the loved ones I was surrounded by and the moments we shared. With acceptance, I had the strength to live my best life, albeit, very differently to the life I dreamt of previously.
Falling in love and marrying the woman of my dreams was one of my life's greatest moments. Nicci has encouraged me to step into my dreams and look past my disability. She sees a "can-do" man, that lets nothing get in his way, and I often need to remind myself of that. I have discovered that caring for people, and being cared for, have many similarities. I know this because I get to live with, care for and love my twin daughters. I have accepted them for who they are, although their abilities are very different, loving on them is the same, and I could not imagine a life without them. Abbey acquired her disability at 3 months of age and knows nothing else. Her infectious laugh and joyous smile gives pleasure to all around her and every person that meets her walks away with a full heart and an appreciation of life.
Abbey's condition is open, obvious and confronting, where Lucy's is hidden, and ever changing. The past ten years understanding her lack of vision has taken us on a journey where each day we learn something new as she grows in maturity and independence. It is very easy to see the physical challenges that Abbey & I live with, yet often it's the unseen, the inner struggles and the mental health that can cause the most pain. We generally pull up the car and roll out the side ramp with our wheelchairs, canes and heads held high wondering why everyone is staring at us. What we do not realise is our normal is not everybody else’s normal.
We know that if we keep on keeping on, we can in some way inspire the next person to take that step, appreciate their life and accept their own struggles, whatever they may be.