No two stories are the same. Each step is different from the last. The way you walk through life is uniquely yours. As it is mine!
So first I want to thank you for your interest in reading my story. Despite sharing it to audiences and individuals all over the world for the last decade, whether I am speaking or writing, it always expresses itself differently, taking on a life of its own.
I was born and grew up in Sydney Australia to my parents Ruth and Ray. My dad played soccer and I followed in his footsteps. I loved soccer with a passion and was a natural competitor, although you can't tell from this picture.
Sport was a massive part of my life and I was talented, with excellent hand-eye coordination. My life changed forever on the soccer field a few months after my 13th birthday. Running up the field to take a corner kick, out of nowhere, a terrible pain struck like lightning in my right hip. It was the last soccer match I ever played.
One X-Ray, one MRI and a bone biopsy confirmed it was cancer. Bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. Within a few weeks I went from your average awkward teenager to being a sick kid and not knowing whether I'd live or die.
Treatment consisted of fourteen rounds of chemotherapy and a major surgical procedure. The first four rounds of chemotherapy were to shrink the tumour in preparation for surgery. The last 10 were to ensure there were no remaining cancer cells in my body.
In the surgery they removed the bones of my hip where the tumour was. They took them across the road where they were to be irradiated, killing all the cancer cells. The bones were then replaced with a partial hip replacement.
The worst part of the treatment was the 6 weeks bedrest to recover from surgery. In a matter of months going from soccer player to not being able to get up to go to the toilet. It tested my will to live and I have my family to thank, particularly my little brother Ari who was just 8 months old when I was diagnosed. I knew I was going to live to be able to watch him grow up.
Standing for the first time after the 6 weeks bedrest was a sobering experience. It hadn't occurred to me that it would take time to walk again. One step was all I could manage with the excruciating pain.
Over the next 3 weeks, each day I would walk a little further and I got upgraded to crutches. My claim to fame when I did eventually return to high school was being able to walk on my crutches without touching the ground with my feet. As well as doing wheelies up and down the corridors when I started using a wheelchair.
After 3 weeks learning to walk again I was transferred back to the Children's Hospital at Westmead from RPA in Camperdown, which is where the surgery was. I started chemotherapy again. There were meant to be 10 rounds after the surgery but on the 9th, an infection attacked my hip. That marked the end of treatment for cancer. The treatment for the infection lasted another 2 years with roughly 20 operations, IV antibiotics 3 times a day and plenty of pain meds.
The complication of infection resulted in the decision to remove bones of my right hip permanently. They were unable to give me another hip replacement due to the severity of the infection. I had to learn how to walk again, this time my right leg was significantly shorter than my left.
At the end of this part of my journey, I was 16 years old. I had missed roughly two and a half years of high school. I struggled with chronic pain daily and I had weaned myself off painkillers because they made me feel groggy and slow.
Nonetheless, I was alive, even if I didn't feel it yet. I survived. I had an incredibly supportive family and friends, and although I didn't know it at the time, just around the corner was a twist of fate that would bring me fully back to life.
It's incredible how quickly life can change.
My parents were very encouraging and tried many things to get me off the couch where I played countless hours of computer games. It was a great coping mechanism but nothing worked until they found wheelchair sport.
The first time I sat in the wheelchair, holding the racket, in the sunshine, trying to push the wheelchair and not getting far, my spirit came back to life. I could hardly hit the ball, but playing sport again gave me hope and ignited my passion for life. I had no clue about the adventure of a lifetime I was about to go on, all I cared about was being able to play.
Five months after I sat in the wheelchair on the tennis court for the first time I was invited to an Australian junior camp in Adelaide. I met other juniors who had been playing a lot longer and the national coach. I learned a lot. On the last day of the camp, we played practice matches. I lost all of my matches except for one, the last match of the day. One week later I received a phone call from the national coach asking if I'd like to play for Australia on the junior team in the World Championships.
From 2007 to 2018 I was selected for the Australian team every year, including for the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Over the span of my career I played in 6 continents, 25 countries, became Australian Champion and my career high ranking was 8 in the world.
It was an incredible adventure. I loved the challenge, the competition, the training, the travel, and seeing how good I could be. I had my eyes set on number 1 and a gold medal but it wasn't to be. Life had other plans for me.
In June 2016, three months before the Rio Paralympics, I reached my career high ranking of 8 in the world. The very next week, I injured my shoulder in two places hitting a high forehand. I was devastated. I entered a period of mourning as I went from being in with a chance for a medal to being unsure whether I'd make it to the Paralympics at all.
If there's one lesson that my life experiences has taught me it's that with every challenge, comes opportunity.
Being a professional tennis player, all my focus was on being the best I could be on the court. The injury gave me a chance to slow down and give back. One of my sponsors EG Funds Management started working with a charity in Tanzania. Three years earlier I met the Tanzanian wheelchair tennis team and had a vision of donating equipment.
So off we went, myself, two people from EG and a friend who's a videographer. We donated 5 wheelchairs, 70 rackets and as much clothes, tennis balls and other equipment as we could carry. We filmed a documentary, part of which you can see here.
Going to Tanzania was an eye opening experience. It gave me a new understanding of perspective as I heard the stories of people with much harder life experiences than my own. Yet when I shared my story, they were in tears.
This trip also provided the next pivotal life changing moment in my journey. I met a man named Tony Stewart who asked me to walk the Kokoda Track to raise money for the charity, Youth Off the Streets.
Between 2010 and 2017 I used a wheelchair in day to day life as well as on the tennis court. I could walk short distances but it was painful. When I was asked to walk Kokoda I had no idea what it would involve but I knew unequivocally that I had to say yes and find out for myself if it was possible. In July 2017 I returned home from Africa and put my everyday wheelchair in storage, where it stayed until I gave it away in 2020.
At first, I could only walk a few hundred metres before I was physically exhausted and in pain. Each week I could walk a little further until I was regularly hiking 10km or more per day. The longest training walk I did in a day was 20km. I couldn't move much the next day.
Walking wasn't the only type of training I did. As an athlete, I knew that to achieve this goal I would have to take a multifaceted, holistic approach if I was going to have any chance of finishing the track. I also needed a team.
Before I went to Africa, in June 2017, together with my closest friend Rani Vincent, we founded the Age of Ability. Our mission was to transform the way people perceive their limitations. In my mind, the opportunity to walk Kokoda would be the perfect launching platform for our new venture.
Rani wasn't hard to convince. We received funding from Clubs NSW and an equipment sponsorship from Trek & Travel. Altogether we were a team of 11, including us, a medic, a videographer, a chiropractor and my dad. Together we walked the track in 8 days, reaching the finish line on the 3rd of November. We raised over $56,000 for charity. It was the hardest thing I've ever chosen to do. The only reason I'd do it again is if my three brothers join me.
After Kokoda, and a few months recovery, my plan was to start training for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. In February I returned to the court, determined to get back into tennis training. The first day back in the chair, something felt different, a little off. The second day, I had an out of body experience, I was watching myself go through the motions and as I returned to my body, I realised that the spark was gone. On day three we had an Australian Team meeting to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympics and before the meeting started I told them I was retiring.
Since retiring two and a half years ago, I have been in a big process of redefining who I am and the work I do in the world. It's been a big challenge to say the least but well worth the time and energy. I have had the time to explore other interests that fell to the side while I focused entirely on my tennis career.
Interests such as mindful movement, I have since trained as a Qigong teacher, learning to play guitar, studying Chinese Medicine and recently I started writing a book.
I am passionate about sharing my journey with the intention of inspiring hope, building resilience, and taking action towards creating a better world. Click on the link below for the information about my presentations.