The Walk On program, which uses the Dardzinski methodology used in Project Walk in the USA is still in infancy here in Australia. With approaximately 300 hundred new spinal cord injuries every year, there is certainly enough people we could help using exercise based recovery techniques. The program being so young in Australia, we unfortunately lack the number of trained professionals to be able to cater to the nearly 10,000 people who live with a spinal cord injury. There is so much that still needs to be acheived. More venues, more trainers... all which through the help of our supporters we will reach in the coming years. But until that day arrives, families often have to travel abroad to get the help they need now. As we know with spinal cord injuries, time is of the essence!
One such family travelled to Project Walk to help their daughter Rhiannon, hoping to acheive her goal of walking again. Outside of the positive results she acheived through hard work, determination and the skill of her trainers, they discovered friendship and inspiration in a place they never dreamt they would. The following blog is from Rhiannon's mother, Sharyn. It reflects on their time at Project Walk as their time draws to an end. We are so very happy that they had a positive and uplifting experience at Project Walk and hope when they arrive back in Australia and join Walk On that, that experience continues.
By Sharyn Bradford
As I reflect from a mother's point of view and a friend too many with Spinal Cord Injury, the past 8 weeks here at Project Walk and in this little place called Carlsbad, there are so many things to share with you. So I will start from our arrival. I remember feeling so sad having to leave my husband, friends and my work but I knew it was what had to do for my daughter, if we wanted the best possible outcome which was for her to "Walk Again".
The plane trip was daunting for me cause the last plane ride before this was my plane trip back from Bali after the accident, I cannot even begin to tell you have anxious I was, but we made it safe and sound and thanks to the great staff on our V Australia flight we were upgraded to 1st Class!
We arrived at San Diego airport at around 10.30pm and waited for our shuttle to take us to our hotel, well what a ride that was! From San Diego Airport to Carlsbad is about 45min's, I am sure the guy that picked us up was a racing car driver, the freeway speed limit is 65miles per hour, this guy was driving at about 85-90mph and Rhiannon was sitting in her wheelchair bouncing around like a rag doll. I had to ask the driver to take it a little easier due to Rhiannon's injury. When we arrived at our hotel, he told me that if I thought he drove fast in the shuttle bus; I should see him drive in his own car....no thank you, Rhiannon and I just laughed we were exhausted, checked into our room to discover the room did not have a roll-in shower as requested but due to being exhausted we would manage. We only had one day to recover from our Jet Lag before Rhiannon was to commence "Project Walk" so sleeping the next day is all we did.
Carlsbad is like a little beach Village, very wheelchair accessible as there are alot of elderly retired people and from what I see is a very popular holiday destination. We started our first day at Project Walk on 11th May nice and early 8.00am, that was hard, Rhiannon and I had to be up around 5.30am to get there in time as we had no idea where it was, we arranged a Taxi to pick us up at 7.30am. I had met the Taxi driver the day before as I went looking for Aussie Power Adaptors whilst Rhiannon was sleeping, he was great taking me everywhere to find the adaptors, but we couldn't get them anywhere. Anyway this Taxi Driver was driving one of his fleet which was a pick up truck, I explained to him that when he picked Rhiannon and I up the next morning he would have to bring his sedan as Rhiannon wouldn't be able to step up into this Gigantic truck, he replied; "No problems". Well the Taxi driver arrived at 7.30am in his pick up truck! He said don't worry Sharyn I will just lift her in, I thought Omg this is going to be great! He did get her in with my help. The trip from our hotel to Project Walk was only 15mins, when we arrived the taxi driver dropped Rhiannon trying to get her out of the truck into her wheelchair, luckly she didn't get hurt, not a great start to the day, I felt sick knowing she had to commence on this note, but she was a trooper and just said; Mum I'm o.k.! Needless to say that taxi driver didn't get another opportunity to transport us anywhere! We walked in to Project Walk and met Rhiannon's trainers, Kimber, Kimmy & David, they were all excited about meeting Rhiannon and as Kimber did her evaluation, I knew we had made the right decision to be here. I honestly want to bring these people home, they are warm, caring and determined, highly motivated and what special people to deal with the emotions of the clients that come in every day with this injury. This was a very emotional time for me, they were so positive and I know they set their own little personal goals for Rhiannon and they believe she will "Walk again" as we have done from the day the Medical Guru's told us "NO"!
The first day of Project Walk was fantastic, the trainers worked out what Rhiannon could and couldn't do, we met Gigi, Tricia & Kathy from Administration and even these girls are beautiful, given the fact I had come over on my own, had no idea where I was going to anywhere, these girls made me feel comfortable and were full of information to make our transition to America more pleasant!
We had a few ups and downs in the first weeks, we had to move from our hotel, due to me dropping Rhiannon trying to get her out of the makeshift bath/shower we had in our room, Rhiannon got very ill with a stomach bug that was going around, then a UTI and I was running all over town getting her medications for everything as she did not want to see a doctor, mind you I was getting Taxi's everywhere and it was costing a fortune. After the first week I decided I had brave it and hire a car, I was petrified, they drive like maniacs over here and very fast, but I couldn't cope knowing that if I had to take Rhiannon to the Emergency Room in a hurry, the taxi wouldn't get here fast enough. We had a great relationship with our new Taxi Driver Sean, he was so caring and a great guy, he would transfer Rhiannon into the cab, he knew how to disasemble & asemble Rhiannons chair, we met his beautiful girlfriend Miranda as we dropped her off at work on the way to Project Walk, it really was great having Sean around I was sad when I hired the car, cause he was like our Body Guard and was full of useful info on the area.
Day 1. with the hire car was frightening, I really had to concentrate driving on the opposite side of the road, I had no idea of the road rules, I just followed the traffic and drove really fast, I felt like I was Jamie or Lowndsy on a race track, I know our friends in Karting and Racing would be proud of me! One of our friends at Project Walk had said to me; the best way to get around the driving is to always think "Left is Wide and Right is Tight". That is permanently embedded in my brain...(Thanks Maddy Bayer). Rhiannon and I have had a few laughs with my driving, as yes I have forgotten sometimes and driven on the wrong side of the road, the first time we got petrol was hilarious! I drove in on the wrong side and the petrol station was packed and everyone just looked at me. Well I got out at the pump and said: "I am Australian gimme a break"! It was even funnier when I was trying to put petrol in the car and was cursing that the bowser wasn't working, when little did I know, in America you pay for your petrol first before you put it in! What a great idea, stops people from driving away without paying. The other little thing I am having trouble with is; is getting into the driver seat, once or maybe even a few times, I have been at the supermarket and have gone to get in the passengers seat to drive, I look around to see if anyone has seen me and then I have a quiet chuckle to myself and quickly go to the other side!
Anyway the weeks have gone quickly and Rhiannon has trained so hard as you can see by her video's, the strength she has gained is just amazing, this place Project Walk is not just a place to come and gain strength and recovery, it is also a place for support not just for the client but for the wonderful and inspirational carers that are looking after their loved ones, I have been privilaged to meet the best people: Kate & Barney who come from Sawtell near Coffs Harbour, Barney who was a passenger in a terrible car accident over 10 years ago and left him in a wheelchair, this is his second visit to Project Walk and he has gained so much from PW and cannot rate the place high enough, his beautiful girlfriend Kate (who will be famous one day, she is an inspirational singer/songwriter) and has written a song about belief, determination & the power to do anything if your mind is right, being right by his side, she is a young girl, that has been with Barney for 3 years and has been nothing but Barney's everything from the word go! Barney lets nothing stop him, he has never let his injury deter him from doing anything. He has travelled the world, surfed and is an inspiration to everyone that meets him. You just have to be his friend on facebook to see how much he has achieved and I think he is da bomb!!! We have met a beautiful family from Texas, Sherry & Jay (Mum & dad), Kendell, her boyfriend Justin, Lindsay & Meagan (Kendell sisters) Kendell was again a passenger in an horrific car accident, her family has been taking it in turn to care for Kendell, they are here for 12 months and wow what a family, you guys have touched my heart as the support you give each other is amazing. They have rallied together and are doing fundraisers all over the place to keep Kendell here for training and treatment. You have shown me what a real family is all about, my hat goes off to you, I love you people. We all went to the Del Mar fair the other night, with one of the trainers from PW Tyler and his girlfriend Nicole, Kendell wanted to go on one of the scariest rides at the fair, its called "Speed" It is as tall as the Giant Drop is QLD, but you sit in it and it goes up really high and the spins you upside down and around and around, I wouldn't even attempt it and I love those scarey rides, but Kendell said; If Barney can do it, so can I!. Now thats what I'm talkin about! This is what you gain from being at PW, not only do you make new friends, you get inspiration, motivation and you learn that you should not let that wheelchair stop you from living life!
I want to talk more about the trainers here at Project Walk. Kimber, Kimmy, David, Margarite, Tyler, Gen, Meika, Jason x 3, Brie, Jillian, Kathy, Sachi, Josh and then there are the trainer aids very important people, Sara, Emily, Connor, Stacey, Kayla, Joel if I have forgotten anyone I apologise, Well these people are the people that change Spinal Cord Injured peoples lives forever, their dedication, compassion, motivation is unbelievable, they work so hard and not only that, they have always got your back, for the first couple of weeks of our stay I was nearly beside myself looking at 4 walls in a hotel room, that soon changed, these people invite you into their lives, you become their friends, we are never stuck now for something to do. Since we have been here, we have been to Kendells surprise 30th, Del Mar Fair, We celebrated my birthday with a bash at the hotel and this weekend we went to a very exciting "Padres" Baseball Game and last night to Brie's for a BBQ all with the Project Walk Crew, the accolades must go to these people, they are sincere and will have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.
People come from all over the world to Project Walk, it is a real Multi-Cultured Centre, this is where you see our crazy world all bond together. We have met people from India, Brazi, Hungry and those mad Canadians, Laura & Andrew you has also made an impact in our lives, we all share the same heart wrenching stories and we are all striving for the same result, that is to get our loved ones better.
I was having a conversation with Jay, Kendells dad a couple of weeks ago and we said; that if anyone is having a bad day, they should visit Project Walk, you walk in and see all the highly motivated & determined people training and it would most definately change your mood! There are kids as young as 3 years old, yes that is right, 3 years old and there is a gorgeous young man named Patrick who was run over at the age of 14 months old, he is now 15 or 16 and you should see his determination, he pushes himself so hard with the most amazing results.
Think about this for a minute.....As non-injured people we go to the Gym we work out for maybe an hour or two we are exhausted or feel great that we have had such a good workout! Well Project Walk Clients & Trainers work out for anything between 2-5 hours a day being injured and you work really hard, there is no slacking off, the clients here work harder than what I have seen in any Gym in Australia!
1000 Cheers for the trainers & aids at Project Walk, you guys make a real difference in the world.....We love you all!