Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 Sydney Running Festival with the Walk On Sydney Wonders

Written by Walk On Sydney Wonder - Simon Hodsden

Beep beep beep,….. Beep beep beep, and it's 3:50 AM on a beautiful Sunday morning and what else would we be doing except getting up and getting ready to participate in the Sydney Running Festival along with about 35,000 other people!

And so the preparation began with the help of my wonderful carer Hazel who agreed to come at four o'clock in the morning to help get me ready, while Sharon and boys organised themselves.
 The logistics of getting me up, ready and at the start line just by Luna Park in Sydney for 7:30 AM somehow seemed very daunting however, with plans made and watches synchronised we were in the car and leaving the driveway only two minutes behind schedule at 5:22 AM. The plan now was to drive to Sutherland Station and get a train to Central Station where we would change and get another one to Milsons Point and meet up with the rest of the team for the start of the fun run.

As we were leaving home we were greeted with a fantastic and beautiful sunrise indicating that the weather would be very kind to us. The journey to the station was particularly uneventful and as we arrived we did notice many other people parking their cars and dressed to participate in the run, it was quite fun trying to guess which distance they may be competing in. Would it be the marathon, half marathon, 9 km or the 4 km fun run, some people were easier to guess than others I think, although when the colour of the bib indicating their run was visible some even greatly surprised me.

Arriving at Sutherland Station we were very fortunate to get a parking space right by the station and the ramp leading to the platform. There was a train waiting for us and the platform attendant was very happy to "throw me quickly onto the train" although not literally. We had actually caught a train earlier than anticipated and were now ahead of schedule. We had just arrived at Sydenham Station when Sharon's phone alarm went off, this was indicating the time we would normally have got up on a Sunday morning, and here we are almost in the centre of Sydney! This was particularly poignant as it was another step back towards "normal" family life as it was before my accident. And it proves that with a bit of effort and an early start we can do it.

CityRail thankfully did not have any surprises for us and we arrived at Milsons Point about 15 minutes early and were in fact the first of our team there. It was incredible the amount of people milling around. There were some very serious runners getting ready for the marathon and a lot of families many with strollers (push chairs, for my English readers) and the overriding sensation that you felt was one of a really happy occasion where everybody was out to enjoy themselves.

The team was now assembling and team shirts were delivered and being worn this meant somebody had to carry all the gear that was now not required. Hmmmmm I wonder who will end up being loaded down (no clues but see if you can guess, a photographic answer will be provided later). The team consisted of us Hodsden's, Chuckie another guy in a chair his wife Mel, our physios Alana, Claudia, Camila and the organising secretary Bec. We were also joined by a research student from the University of Sydney with her family who had just flown in from Malaysia the day before.

The Walk On Sydney Wonders Team - All revved up and 4K to go!

At 7:55 AM we were under starters orders. And We're Off.

The number bibs that we are wearing are really quite clever as they contain a timing thingy that activates something as we go over the start and will stop something at the finish. I didn't want to get too technical (mostly because I don't understand how it works).

The start was a relatively slow affair as everybody had to run through the start line to activate their time thingy, however after that people started to walk, jog and run and for me my 4 km chinathon was about to begin. It is quite surprising but it is actually quite a climb from Luna Park up and onto the Bridge. The beauty about this running Festival is the fact that they close the Bridge to all traffic to allow the event to cross it, something that happens very rarely and it is fantastic opportunity to cross this icon on foot (so to speak).

David showing a good turn of speed with Sharon and I closing up
quickly at the beginning of the climb onto the Bridge.

As we progressed further onto the Bridge the views of Sydney just become awesome. Although there were a lot of people taking part in the run there were sections where the crowds were very thin and during these quiet periods I really took the opportunity to Hoon about and put my chin down and get some speed going. This was great fun as long as I avoid the cracks, small potholes and other variations in the road surface that can make chin driving of a wheelchair a very painful experience.

Have you managed to guess who will be carrying all of the excess baggage?

No? ....all will be revealed in the photograph below.

Yes it was me and I think the balloons are there to counteract the extra weight of the bags! This picture is quite incredible as it almost looks like we are the only people on the Bridge. Although it was very tempting to really speed as fast as possible across the Bridge it was also really great just to savour the atmosphere of the day and the occasion.

Sharon discusses race tactics with Claudia and Camila.

As we approached the end of the Bridge were greeted with a band playing and this added to the carnival atmosphere. It was about this point where my neck began to ache although my chin was still feeling great. The route of the run then took us across the Cahill Expressway and you can get fantastic views of Circular Quay, The Opera House and the Bridge, something that is very difficult to appreciate normally when you are in a car. As we exited the Cahill Expressway there was about 1 km left to go and most of these would now be downhill along Macquarie Street and down to the Opera House where the finish line was.

Going downhill would now be the opportunity for us all too actually get some speed up and the photographs above prove that it was a run. We crossed the finish line with the timing of 48 minutes 40 seconds, I suppose this sets the standard for next year. We must have done pretty well because we all got medals.

After finishing the run and with everybody feeling pretty good all the participants had to exit through the Botanical Gardens where there was a "recovery village". This was packed with runners getting drinks, food and sponsors tents etc and was a real reminder of the organisation that goes into an event such as this.

Getting out of the recovery village and down to the station at Circular Quay took nearly as long as the fun run itself due to the number of people trying to exit at once.

It was a fantastic day and I feel a really great achievement and as the writing on Chuckie's wife's T-shirt said on the back "it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop" -- Confucius.

I am looking forward to my next Chinathon.


Matthew 19:26 -- With God all things are possible

Sunday, April 10, 2011

SpineCare Conference 2011

Walk On at SpineCare Conference 10-11th March, Doltone House, Sydney

By Alana Tickle, Walk On Therapist B.App.Sc (ExSpSc) ESSAM AEP

Kierre and I were so happy to be invited as Walk On representatives at the SpineCare Conference, held at the beautiful Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf on Sydney’s harbour. What a fantastic location to have spent 2 days at!

There was plenty to be excited about at this conference. We had the opportunity to listen to some amazing international keynote speakers including Professor Lawrence Vogel, Associate Professor MJ Mulcahey, Professor Randel Betz and Associate Professor Bonita Sawatzky, all of whom are dealing with paediatric spinal cord patient’s day in and out and are leading the way in current research and treatment options in this field.

Day 1:
The opening session at the conference was an introduction and overview of our main focus for the next two days – innovation and practice in childhood spinal conditions.

I found the second session of the day particularly informative as the panel on stage discussed scoliosis and bone health in children with a spinal cord injury. Bone density is an important consideration at Walk On, so the discussion between traditional methods of testing bone density to a newer method utilising a specialised x-ray, provoked some thought amongst many audience members including Kierre and I.

After a delicious lunch was the Hypotheticals session. It was a really great way to break the day up. It involved some of the leading Doctors and Professors in spinal cord injury research (including Australia’s very own Prof. Mary Galea) role playing in hypothetical situations. It was quite humorous to watch them role play scenarios such as how parents react to different issues that may confront children with SCI. After each skit had played out, a panel discussed how they would personally handle each of the scenarios.

The final session of the day was about the advances in science and technology. I was particularly interested in the neuroplasticity of the spinal cord (presented by Prof. Mary Galea) and current stem cell research that is currently being undertaken. Whilst it was all very technical, it was really interesting! It reminds me of just how complicated the human nervous system is!!

Now day one of the conference was over, we had the opportunity to let our hair down a little and attend a social cocktail party that most of the conference delegates attended. The food was great and so were the conversations… the magnificent view to the Harbour Bridge didn’t hurt either! It was great to see and have a few laughs with our friends at Restorative Therapies - T.Ann who had an exhibition stand at the conference for their FES cycles.

Day 2:
I woke up in the morning with butterflies in my stomach. I so nervous I couldn’t even stomach my breakfast. Even though I have presented on Walk On before, I was nervous about sitting on stage, looking out at over 150 professors, doctors, allied health professionals, nursing staff and parents of children with a spinal cord injury. It was just a tad intimidating! Kierre on the other hand, looked calm and kept telling me “not to worry” and “we’ll be fine”!

Kierre and I sat on stage next to Associate Professor Andrea Behrman and Dr Dena Howland. They presented on activity-based locomotor training and emphasised that high repetitions are the key to activity based therapy approaches when doing activity below the level of injury in children with neurological conditions.

The time came for Kierre and I to get up and speak and my heart started racing a million beats per minute. Despite being so nervous, it was a wonderful and memorable experience. It was so great to share with the audience about what we do and the passion we have for our jobs here at Walk On. I started our presentation with an overview of what Walk On is about and who we are as therapists. I also included some information about our clients such as their level of injury, age, and whether their injury was traumatic or non-traumatic. Kierre then took the microphone and talked about the core of what we do at Walk On – strength training including core stability, balance, posture, coordination gait training and an overview of the equipment we utilise. She also discussed using active assisted movement and visualisation and developmental movement patterns as some of the keys to our program to help stimulate the nervous system. Our session came to a close with question time and I was relieved that all of the questions directed to Kierre and I about Walk On were confidently answered.

Following our presentation, many people from the audience approached us telling us how interesting the program was. The highlight for me however, was being personally congratulated by two of the international keynote speakers; Professor Lawrence Vogel (Assistant Chief of Staff Shriners Hospitals for Children, Chief of Paediatrics, Professor of Paediatrics, Rush Medical College & Medical Director of SCI Program Shriners Hospitals for Children, United States) and Professor Randal Betz (Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Chief of Staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children & Medical Director of Shriners' Spinal Cord Injury Unit, United States) on our presentation. Overall the feedback was very positive!

The rest of the day is a bit of a blur really. It went so quickly, as the adrenaline was still pumping and I was on a high from our presentation.

We had an opportunity after our session and during the day to talk to people interested in the Walk On program and hand out some fact sheets and flyers. It felt really great to be able to get the message out there about our wonderful program that uses intense dynamic activity-based exercise therapy. So many of our clients are reporting functional benefits and hopefully we can continue to offer the program to more people in the spinal cord injured community, including paediatrics, now that they know the program exists!

Kierre and Alana with Assoc. Prof. Andrea Behrman, Assoc. Prof. Dena Howland University of Florida

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Workplace injuries

Spinal Cord Injuries Australia’s Teamsafe program goes out to workplaces in variety of industries to talk about life after a work-related accident and help prevent workers from becoming another statistic.

Talking about statistics, Safework Australia has just released an updated report on work-related deaths (2007-08) – the numbers are falling, thankfully, but still blows your mind how fragile life is.
 From a total of 442 work-related traumatic injury fatalities – 65% people were injured at work, whilst 22% were commuting to or from work. However, a staggering 12% (55 people) were just bystanders – passing or waiting a worksite who were struck by or fell into something.

In 2008/09 there were 130,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in NSW. 9,000 of these resulted in a permanent disability. Approximately 24% of spinal cord injuries are work-related.
 Imagine this…

One day you kiss your wife and say “see you later.” You put the kids into the car and drop them to school, you head to work… then never make it home again – the chances are slight, but very real.

The trauma experienced by your love ones, friends and colleagues has a devastating impact financially and emotionally.

However, what is more sobering is the simple fact EVERY work-related injury or fatality is preventable. Teamsafe is our initiative to help prevent accidents in the workplace.

Read the Safework Australia report here:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Presenting a Story

By Pearl Lee - Teamsafe Manager and Mark Marchiori - Teamsafe Ambassador

Our Teamsafe Ambassador, Mark Marchiori was recently asked to speak to construction workers on the Kempsey Bypass Alliance. This was a mass Toolbox Talk with 150 guys (and girls) in the middle of the Pacific Highway - which comprises the construction of about 40 km of four-lane divided highway south of Kempsey to north of Eungai Rail.

Mark talks about his experience at Kempsey – as a presenter;

“The time comes to be in front of a number of people to present a story. What you are going to say, the way you feel is all in order ….. Then it starts, look at all the people, I find my mouth goes dry and I even go blank with the story I’m presenting. It does get better.

The audience listen and sit tight to hear what will happen, the look on their face, a laugh or tear shows interest and they take in the understanding of what’s is being said. At the end of the presentation and a break comes you are approached and the audience and they give their thanks, they were happy to hear you speak. You have achieved a good doing.”

Public speaking is #2 in the top 10 of most fears. Despite Mark having a brain injury and spinal cord injury, he has taken to the challenge (and fears) so that he can overcome the barriers to living a meaningful and fulfilling life. Mark now speaks as a Teamsafe ambassador about injury prevention and disability awareness on major workplace sites for Qantas and Leighton Contractors.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When disaster strikes

This blog was written by Stella Young for Ramp Up

'When disaster strikes'

The devastating floods in Queensland this week are undoubtedly going to have lasting effects for an enormous number of people. People have lost personal property, their homes and, in some cases, their lives. The efforts needed to help people rebuild will be tremendous.

At times like these I can't help but think of my own preparedness, or lack thereof, in times of crisis. My ability to head for the hills in a flood or other natural disaster would be severely compromised by my disability. I thought about this a lot in the aftermath of the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. For many people with disabilities, accessible taxis are their only mode of transport. Most wheelchair users know that accessible cabs can't even be relied upon to get us to work on time, let alone to safety in a life-threatening situation.
Disability organisations such as Queenslanders with Disabilities Network (QDN) have certainly been concerned about the safety of people with disabilities in the floods. In a statement issued yesterday, Manager Fran Vicary urged emergency services to ensure that people with disabilities were rescued and their needs taken care of. Ms Vicary said, "Many people with a disability live alone in the community and rely on support workers to visit them and assist with activities of daily living. Many of these people are vulnerable and cannot use communication technology or self-evacuate."
QND are working with Disability and Community care Service to conduct a phone-around to all people with disabilities for whom the two organisations have contact details. Ms Vicary also identified the likelihood that when the flood subsides and the water recedes, people may be faced with damaged equipment and technology that is uninsured and extremely difficult to replace.
My first instinct in any situation that poses a threat to me is always to protect my wheelchair first. Don't get me wrong, I understand that we're talking about life-threatening situations here and I do value my life. Quite a bit actually. However, being without my wheelchair severely compromises my quality of life. For me, and for many other wheelchair users, having no chair means more than just an inability to get to work or to get out and see mates. It means an inability to get out of bed and around our own houses. The thought of irreparable damage to my chair terrifies me in a way that no creepy crawly or scary snake has ever managed to.
The potential loss for people with disabilities in a flood is significant. A wheelchair user could lose their mobility. Someone who uses an electronic communication device could lose their means of communication with other people. Someone who uses a ventilator that runs on electricity could lose their ability to breathe.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine earlier in the week. He uses a ventilator for breathing assistance while sleeping. He said that when Y2K predicted the end of power supply as we know it, he was advised to admit himself to hospital where they have backup generators. I was gobsmacked, but I thought back to my own concerns when the year 1999 became 2000, and my biggest worry was indeed my chair. Without power, I wouldn't be able to charge the battery. It seems like a very simple problem, but it's one that would have an enormous impact on my life.

I'm hopeful that all people, regardless of ability, were provided with the assistance they needed to evacuate to safety. Certainly, the Queensland government has not forgotten the need for the state's Deaf community to be informed. A number of Premier Anna Bligh's press conferences have been Auslan interpreted in the interests of, in Premier Bligh's own words, "making sure that everyone gets the best information as quickly and as efficiently as possible".

A significant number of people on Twitter commented on this inclusion of sign language. Hopefully in the future this will be the rule rather than the exception and people might not find it so noteworthy, but for now, this kind of discussion can only be a good thing. Just for starters, it sets a precedent for other governments when communicating emergency information.

A quick search of the internet tells me that there has been quite a bit of work done in the area of emergency management and people with disabilities. Interestingly, in May last year Emergency Management Queensland teamed up with the Australia Red Cross to produce a booklet and worksheets designed for people with disabilities. The booklet aims to educate and inform people about the proper course of action in the event of a natural emergency. There are a number of resources such as this and it seems that there is information and assistance available to people with disabilities.

Perhaps what I should be more concerned about is that, until now, it has never occurred to me to look.

Stella Young is the editor of Ramp Up.

Evacuating to avoid disaster zones can be difficult for people with disabilities.

Credit: Jodie van de Wetering (Flickr)