Rhys, at his brothers wedding late last year
Rhys has been a sporty guy for as long as I can remember. A total computer nerd, which he won't deny if you ask him, but still incredibly sporty, playing everything from baseball to soccer and succeeding in it. That's why it was a major shock to Rhys when he crashed his car at the age of 19 and became a paraplegic. He knew, even then, while he was waiting in his overturned Toyota Supra for someone to find him, that his back was broken. What he didn't count on, was becoming a paraplegic and losing the use of his legs.
I remember seeing Rhys just a few days before the accident. I was only 10, and we were having a family barbecue at the river in Evans Head. We didn't have much to do with Rhys back then, but he decided that since he had just got his P's he would come down to the barbecue to show off his flashy, new car and see the family. We had a great day, Rhys was looking great and he left with a smile and with us laughing at how long we could hear his car for after it disappeared around a bend.
A few days later, my mum received a phone call. It was Rhys' mum, Marina and she told us she was at a Sydney Hospital. Rhys had had an accident.
It was a cold September night and Rhys had had a disagreement with a girl. He went for a drive to clear his head, but we had had a lot of rain, and the road was wet. He lost control of the car on a bend in a country back road, crashed through a fence, flew over a creek and would up on his side, resting against a creek's embankment. He lied there all night, in excruciating pain, freezing cold, and wet until he was found close to dawn the next morning.
Our local hospital doesn't have a spinal unit, so it was agreed that Rhys would be rushed up to Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane for treatment. Instead, he ended up waiting 14 hours with a broken back, a broken shoulder and a punctured lung for doctors to find him a bed in a NSW spinal unit - administration would not admit him in Queensland, despite it being 6 hours' drive closer, because he was a NSW patient.
Rhys, in the early stages of rehab
Finally, Rhys arrived in Sydney Royal North Shore Hospital and begun to undergo treatment and rehabilitation to get his life back on track. He has admitted to me before that he became pretty depressed at one point, while he was in rehab in Sydney, but he soon realised that he was not the worst off in the facility. There were people there with far worse injuries than what Rhys had suffered, making them quadriplegic or affecting their brain in some manner. Rhys soon realised how lucky he was to have escaped his accident with his life, and quickly decided to do all that he could to live as normal a life as possible, and help raise awareness of the dangers of speeding to young people.
It took a while for Rhys to get to where he is today, but a few years ago he moved to Sydney with his then girlfriend, Sharon, to focus on his wheelchair sports and find a way to help others who are going through the same situation he went through after the accident. Rhys has become a spokesperson who travels around to schools, sharing his story and raising awareness of the dangers of speeding, he now works for Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, offering support to those who are undergoing rehab for spinal injuries in Sydney hospitals, and the most exciting news of all...
Rhys has made it onto the Australian Wheelchair Rugby League team and will be competing in the World Cup! (He is in the far left of the above team photo)
I can't even begin to describe how proud I am of him having made it this far! He is such an inspiration! Competing on an international level in sports has been a dream of Rhys' since he was a kid. He is literally living his dream right now!
Rhys' accident, while tragic, has opened his eyes to a whole world of opportunities. Even though his life would be easier if he hadn't had the accident, he has now had the opportunity to raise awareness in schools of the danger of speeding, potentially saving lives through this work. He has given new hope to others in his situation through his work with Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, boosting the morale of spinal injury patients, which is absolutely critical to their recovery, and now he is representing his country in a sport he loves!
Rhys and his teammate, Dan, about to appear on Fox Sports News
Not only that, but he has taught all of us, his family, that people with disabilities are no different to anyone else. He has taught us not to take pity on the disabled, or turn away when they go past, but to treat them as our equals - because that's exactly what they are. I know that it might sound trivial to have to learn this from him in the first place, but it's true. So many of us are guilty of treating disabled people differently, whether it be by shunning them, or just as bad in some cases, treating them like they are useless or going out of our way to try to help them in tasks they are capable of doing on their own. Rhys is the same person now that he always has been. He is a strong, capable man with a great sense of humour, a big heart, good taste in music and a comfy chair to coast through life on. I am so proud to call him my cousin!
Marina, Aunty Bridget, Mum, Shoni, Rhys and Kobi on a visit
to our house in 2009. Not sure where I was?
Disclaimer: This post was put together by me, with information as recalled from my memory, from conversaions with my cousin and from articles on www.northernstar.com.au. I give credit of all photos to their respective parties, Rhys' mum, Marina, Wheelchair Rugby League Australia and the Northern Star. I am sharing this story to inspire and because I am proud of my cousin's achievements after facing such a massive obstacle in life. He is a truly amazing person.