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Issue 9

sabre and sword

Brad’s wheelchair fencing club and more

Swords and sorcery, lances and shields – the medieval world of knights, nobility and chain mail live on in Brad Lancaster’s imaginative world.

Brad is a passionate historian, with an affinity for medieval mayhem.

“Swords, knights, shields and magic, it’s what I’ve always been into,” he tells Shine. After leaving high school, he worked for a fellow who staged medieval re-enactments for schools. A few jobs later he realised he missed doing what he loved and, at 21, went back to university to study history. Becoming a history teacher seemed like a logical next step, but he quickly tired of schools and the grind of a Diploma of Education.

Brad secured a job at Australia’s oldest house, Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta, which is part of Sydney Living Museums. He worked for five years at Elizabeth Farm and two years at Hyde Park Barracks, doing medieval combat fighting on the side and perfecting his painted medieval miniatures.

It was proximity to history that dictated where he and his partner Genevieve, and son Tristan, would buy a house. They chose Granville because, “I figured that I’m working in an historical building in an historic area; there are two places where there is a lot of history – Parramatta and the CBD. Granville is perfect, we can get to the CBD quickly, and it’s close to Parramatta.”

Brad’s motorcycle accident occurred in May 2015, and he spent the next seven months in hospital. His love of history, once again, has been a motivating force in his recovery.

“A lot of people say, I used to do this and that, as I did with with medieval fighting. But then I discovered wheelchair fencing. So, do what you want to do. Go on the internet, find out stuff, talk to people, and
work out a way to do it.” Brad Lancaster

Parry and point

Brad sustained a T4 ASIA A (complete) spinal cord injury. He now uses a wheelchair with a powerful Batec electric assist handbike attachment. By February 2016, he was back at Elizabeth Farm one day a week doing a range of administrative tasks, although not as many tours as  he once did and hopes to do again.

Sydney Living Museums has been very supportive, undertaking a range of workplace modifications to improve accessibility. There are limited disabled parking spots, however, the Batec handbike means Brad can easily get to work without having  to drive his modified car.

There were many things that Brad could no longer do after his accident. Medieval sword fighting was out: “I can’t hold a shield in a wheelchair. It’s conducted on uneven ground and just not doable in a wheelchair. I had to say goodbye to that and  concentrate on what I could do.”

A long-held dream to take over the medieval reenactment shows also had to be shelved: “It’s not feasible now, it involves a whole lot of driving around Sydney getting in and out of the van, moving gear and stuff, and having the physical strength  to do the 1.5 hour show.”

People told him to take up wheelchair basketball or rugby, neither of which interested him.

“What to do if you are a nerd who likes swords and sorcery, and that kind of stuff? What if you just want to hit people with medieval weapons?” he jokes. Well, you  take up wheelchair fencing.

Although a Paralympic sport, wheelchair fencing did not really exist in Australia. Brad has set his sights on growing a viable club, and there is now a small band of regulars who meet weekly.

Brad has participated in a number of demonstration events  to generate interest in the sport. He is also working with Royal Rehab and Wheelchair Sports NSW to source wheelchair frames and other gear needed for competition.

Brad Lancaster Medieval Miniatures

What’s next?

The family is living in temporary accommodation while the Granville house is being modified to  meet Brad’s needs. It has been a frustrating process, with long delays. The previous Council deliberated over its proximity to a stormwater drain and flood zone, and the confusion continued after recent council amalgamations. Coming to terms with the accident, and the disruption  of living away from home, has been wearing for Brad and his family. Now that modifications have finally started, they can’t wait to move back in early 2017. icare lifetime care has supported Brad with the modification to his home, transitional accommodation, wheelchair and  Batec handbike, speech therapy and car modifications.

Genevieve has also participated in the Strength 2 Strength program for family members, which she enjoyed (see below).

Tristan turns four next year and Brad will continue to look after him part-time and work at Elizabeth Farm either one or two days a week. Most of all, Brad and Genevieve just want to relax  after a tumultuous two years.

Do what you want to do

“Everyone tells you that it gets better over time,” says Brad. “That’s not very helpful when the pain and loss feels all consuming.” Brad now talks to people in rehab about going back to work and seizing the opportunities.

“Focus  on the things you can do, not what you can’t do. It’s really surprising what you can do, the stuff that’s out there is amazing. If I wanted to go out and sail boats as a paraplegic, then there are ways I can do it. A lot of people say, I used to do this and that, as I did with  with medieval fighting. But then I discovered wheelchair fencing. So, do what you want to do. Go on the internet, find out stuff, talk to people, and work out a way to do it.”

Strength 2 Strength

Strength 2 Strength is a one-day workshop for family members who have sustained a spinal cord injury or brain injury. It aims to build resilience and connections. Genevieve Lancaster, a production editor in a busy legal publishing firm, attended a recent Strength 2 Strength workshop.  Genevieve appreciated the opportunity to talk about a lot of things in depth. She thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and would recommend it to anyone who wants new ideas. Many partners, parents and carers of icare lifetime care participants say it can be a lonely road. Strength 2 Strength  is one way to build connections with people who are going through similar experiences.

Strength 2 Strength is funded by icare and is run by the NSW Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program or NSW Spinal Outreach Service. More workshops will be running in 2017. Family members can email or  call 1300 738 586 to register their interest in attending.

a family perspective

New support networks for family carers

“When something like this happens, it affects the whole family,” explains Narelle Hawkins, mother of Todd, and a member of a Carers NSW advisory committee aimed at developing programs to support families and carers.

Narelle & Todd HawkinsSix years’ ago, Todd had a motorcycle accident just after his 30th birthday. He was in intensive care for two months, followed by six months in the brain injury unit at Liverpool Hospital. His injuries were severe; Todd had post traumatic amnesia for 101 days, and his prognosis wasn’t good. He now lives at home with his parents, can walk, talk, dress and feed himself, but experiences ongoing depression. The cognitive damage he sustained affects his emotions, ability to reason, decision-making and memory.

“You’re handed this person with monumental problems,” Narelle told Shine. “You have no medical training, and there is nobody to help or guide you, or give you any answers. Ultimately, you’re responsible for their rehabilitation, and you are totally on your own.”

Narelle describes the isolation she, Todd, and the whole family experienced after the accident. Friendship networks evaporated; holidays were shelved; isolation set in.

“I know it’s hard for people to understand,” Narelle says. “I wouldn’t have understood what it’s like before Todd’s accident.”

Exploring options

Being on the advisory committee has been a positive experience for Narelle. Talking to people who are in a similar situation is vital, and there are limited opportunities to do this in Australia. Online support groups are helpful, but it is even better meeting people face-to-face.

“Of course, the focus should always be on the injured person, but the family is affected almost as much.”

Narelle knows that the partnership with Carers NSW to develop programs for families is the beginning of a period of exploration. She’s hoping that her input to the advisory committee will help other affected families in the future.

"Of course, the focus should always be on the injured person, but the family is affected almost as much." Narelle Hawkins

Long way to go

“We were thrown out of a venue one day because they said that Todd was drunk. They physically escorted us out of the venue. I said, he’s not drunk, he has a brain injury.

We were there to see his brother play in a band, and the band manager stepped in and said, he’s not drunk, he has a brain injury. It made no difference, the person just repeated, I’ve made my decision, you have to leave. So, we were thrown out. Todd just goes into his own world sometimes, he was just sitting there with his eyes closed and they inferred that he was drunk.”

“I wouldn’t change my situation for the world, but it is far more stressful and heartbreaking than you can express in words.” Narelle Hawkins

Looking forward

Narelle works full-time, as does her husband, Doug. She loves her work, and does not want to give it up. Doug may retire next year, and she worries about what will happen to Todd when they both get older.

She valued the open conversation that took place in the first advisory committee meeting, and is looking forward to the next meeting in December. She reflects every day on the support icare lifetime care has given Todd – medical treatment, speech and occupational therapy, attendant care workers – and what a lifeline that support has meant for Todd and the family.

“I wouldn’t change my situation for the world,” she reflects, “but it is far more stressful and heartbreaking than you can express in words. You have to actually be there, you have to go through it, which you would never wish on anyone. It’s good that I can be the one to advocate for Todd and try and get what’s best for him in the long term. But it’s a very lonely and difficult job.”

icare Families and icare Kids and Young People

icare lifetime care is partnering with Carers NSW to develop and implement two new programs that seek to build the resilience, knowledge and emotional well being of families of participants.

Carers NSW is a state-wide peak organisation who support and advocate for family members or friends who care for people with a disability, chronic condition, terminal illness or are frail.

The impact of severe injury and subsequent disability on families; parents, siblings and children is significant, the lives of the injured person and their family is forever changed.

The icare Families program is a 6 session face-to-face mentoring program with a Carers NSW Mentor who will provide information and emotional support to help family members develop coping strategies to address the challenges being experienced. Connections will be established with existing and ongoing support services such as Carers NSW support groups. The icare Kids and Young People program will provide access to a dedicated Carers NSW youth worker for children or siblings (up to the age of 25) of Scheme participants. The model of support for this program is still to be developed.

These programs will commence in 2017. Family members can email or call 1300 738 586 for more information on the programs. Carers NSW provides counselling and support for carers and has a wide range of information and resources for carers on their website

paddling, passion and power

The psychology of a champion

Before his accident, Matthew Newman was a book binder and graphic arts computer programmer working in a fast-paced publishing business. He was also an elite surfer with nine surfboards, five snowboards, and led an active physical life trail running, mountain biking, snowboarding and weight training. He and his wife Tracey live on the Central Coast where they built a house 15 years’ ago, and where bay and beach collide producing endless surf and boating opportunities.

Even with his sports-oriented, highly engineered ‘sea leg’ prosthetic, and custom-built, lay down body board, it took a while for Matt to overcome an inner barrier to getting back into the surf. The barrier didn’t apply to the water in general, and a whole new world of canoe paddling has opened up for Matt.

Tracey & Matthew Newman

Life without a rudder

Like many champion sportspeople, Matt is persistent and disciplined. Still in hospital after his car accident in February 2013, he resisted using painkillers, preferring a combination of breathing and stretching techniques. This is all the more remarkable when it’s revealed how serious Matt’s injuries were.

Matt’s injuries included a brain injury, above right knee amputation, total left knee reconstruction, as well as other fractures and internal injuries. He spent two months in Royal North Shore Hospital, a further five months of rehab at Hirondelle Private Hospital, and a few weeks at Hunter Brain Injury Service in Newcastle. Although he tried, returning to work was too physically demanding.

Matt's Newman digital prosthetic Matt was keen to get back into sports. By chance he heard about former soldier Curtis McGrath, a double amputee and recent winner of a KL2 para-canoe Olympic medal, and McGrath’s proficiency with a river canoe. “I thought maybe that’s the direction I need to go in,” he recalls. “I ordered a canoe from Tahiti and started paddling it.”

For 12 months, Matt read everything he could about paddling a rudderless outrigger canoe (V1). The local outrigger canoe club at Woy Woy had never seen an adaptive paddler like Matt, and no one was familiar with the V1 craft. The more common outrigger canoe is an OC1 which is steered by a rudder.

There are major differences between the six-man boats or single craft with rudders in common use and Matt’s rudderless form of paddling.

“They have the advantage of using their feet,” Matt explains.

“In my craft, it’s all steering strokes. They say that a V1 paddler, which is what I am, is always more technically superior than an OC1 paddler because you can’t rely on the rudder. I had to learn all these different variables to do with the efficiency of the stroke, and paddle a lot!” Then, another stroke of luck. Matt heard about the Mooloolaba Outrigger Club for adaptive paddlers on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Coached by former Olympian Gayle Mayes, the club has nurtured a vibrant group of competitive paddlers. Matt was excited, and headed up north earlier this year to touch base and learn.

Matthew Newman next to his canoe"I went, wow, I’m not the only amputee paddling this kind of craft, here is a whole flotilla of them. I met all of the club members, these highly competitive people who have done the whole journey I’ve done and more. The teamwork up there is amazing." Matthew Newman

Dreamlike flotilla

He spent the first night in his car and woke up at dawn to an amazing sight – around 30 V1 paddlers pushing out into the river. Until then, he had never actually seen his craft in motion.

“I went, wow, I’m not the only amputee paddling this kind of craft, here is a whole flotilla of them. I met all of the club members, these highly competitive people who have done the whole journey I’ve done and more. The teamwork up there is amazing.”

Matt learned so much during his initial visit. The best paddlers in the world were on hand to give tips and advice. Mitch Olds, a young Sunshine Coast paddling champion, showed Matt how to rig his canoe properly, saving him time and effort.

Coincidentally, there was a national competition in the wings and Matt was invited to compete. He went back home, trained hard with a physiotherapist who had previously been a competitive cycler, and competed in the national championship coming third.

Matthew Newman celebrating with the teamThe world sprints quickly followed in May. Matt competed again, winning three gold medals – two solo V1 medals and one crew medal.

Books are good but it’s different to feeling it, says Matt.

From his Sunshine Coast crew mates he’s learned more about breaking down the stroke into components, about the catch, the power phase, when to release, the heaviness of the water, the load on the blade. It’s all about becoming a good technical paddler. He’s now coaching people at the Woy Woy club and focusing on elite six-man boat competitive paddling.

It’s a phenomenal achievement, but no surprise to Matt’s wife, Tracey Aurisch. “He was always involved in sports before his accident,” Tracey says, “and he’s got that killer competitive instinct to achieve things at a high level physically.”

“It’s about drive,” Mathew continues. “The people I met in Queensland are highly motivated, competitive and focused. A few of them were in the recent Olympics, they are real champions, and not your normal person!”

Solid waves

Matthew Newman celebratingIt took a while before Matt could go back to surfing. It was one of his biggest psychological hurdles. “I was so involved in surfing and I had lost my old self,” he explains. “There were body issues and concerns about how other people would perceive me.

A guy who used to design my boards built a lay down body board for me – it’s a bit shorter and wider, but still has fins. I must have gone to the beach five, six or seven times but the anxiety was too great to get in.

The image of what and who I once was just loomed up in front of me, and I turned around and came home.

Finally, one long weekend, probably the busiest day of the year, I just had to get out there. It felt liberating. It felt like I was home.”

Matt is now surfing solid waves on his board, although not standing up as he used to. He gets heaps of positive feedback. The work he did with a psychologist was and still is vital. He had to construct a new sense of self, and it took time.

“There was a lot of mind stuff going on,” he reflects. “But sometimes you’ve just got to go out there, throw caution to the wind, and focus on what you want to do and not what you think other people are thinking about you. You’re probably wrong anyway!”

Do you have feedback or a story for Shine?

Email or call 1300 738 586.