It was a fine winter’s Sunday in Carnarvon, Western Australia. Too nice to stay at home so I rode my bike to the beach to do some sand running and swimming. I was an active 16 year old boy who just loved sport – football, soccer, basketball, swimming and athletics.
I had started to get a little serious about running as I had won 3 races at the high school athletics carnival (400m, 800m and 1500m ), as well as a few distance races put on by the school to raise funds. I thought 1983 would be my year to race in Perth.
Carnarvon had its first 8km fun run which I won easily. I competed in the bridge to bridge fun run in Perth not knowing what to expect. I didn’t do too well but it was a great learning experience. Then I won the 5km cross country race in Geraldton and I knew I had a chance at becoming a professional athlete.
On my way back from the beach on that Sunday 26 June 1983, I stopped to climb a pole. I didn’t think of whether anything would happen to me – I was a teenage boy. So with my big feet and long arms I climbed that pole made from an old train track. I don’t know how high I got, because all of a sudden everything went black and I ended up on the sand of the creek bed.
The pole was right next to a creek with rock hard sand bags on the side and a small bridge. The location was Whitlock Creek, only a kilometre from town situated between the beach and the town. Whitlock Creek was an out of the way place where hardly anybody goes. So in hind sight I was incredibly lucky to of been found.
I woke up with no feeling in my legs. I could feel my flesh but I couldn’t feel my hand feeling my bum. I had been facing north when I climbed the pole but had woken up facing south, face down in the sand. I will never know exactly what happened.
The next time I woke up was in Carnarvon Regional Hospital with my mum crying by my side. I was a bit puzzled as to why I was there, then I went back into the darkness. I woke up at Jandakot Airport on a stretcher going towards an ambulance – then went back into the darkness. Out the front of the Royal Perth Hospital emergency section was my next recollection, then Ward 11 – a section of the Royal Perth Rehab unit in Shenton Park. The funny thing is I knew where this was because only 6 months previously I had been walking the corridors of this hospital visiting my cousin Bob. Bob had damaged his spine in a car accident and now walks with a limp.
I turned 17 in Ward 11 just three weeks after my accident. I had broken my spinal cord a mere two weeks after winning the Geraldton race.
The things I miss most in life are being able to do activities where I don’t have to use some type of equipment to be able to do it.
I have been working for PBF Australia for seven years. I work in the Perth office doing a bit of data entry and special projects. My hobbies are watching TV, driving my car up north and hanging out with family and wheelchair friends. My interests are new technology, science, computers, flying, keeping healthy, designing new things and chatting. But my obsession is trying to find easy ways to go to the beach by myself.
Since the 1980’s I have participated in road racing and wheelchair basketball. At present I am very interested in hand-cycling and all the places this sport can take me. The thing that has changed the most in my life has been the way other people and myself interact socially. My family treat me the same but it has changed with my friends. It is different with both the ones before my accident and the new ones after my accident. I suppose my original friends found it hard to relate to me.
James Ormerod is an integral part of the PBF team. PBF Australia is here to support people living with SCI get back into their local communities. We offer employment opportunities through our injury prevention and peer support programs. One of PBF’s goals is to demonstrate that life can and does go on after a spinal cord injury. James is living proof.