Freedom on the water

A Pathway to Achievement – Neil’s Story

Although Neil started to sail in his teens on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria in the beautiful area around Arthurs Seat it was not until some 50 years later that he finally considers himself a sailor.

Although Neil’s life, as with all of us, has been a journey, his pathway to achievement at Sailability Gold Coast has been a journey that has given love and joy but at times has demanded resilience, strength, focus and all that the human spirit can give in ensuring survival.

Neil settled on a bush block in the Gold Coast hinterland in 1978 and set about having a family.

Neil is a member of the Bonogin Valley Community Association and in 1991, together with a group of neighbours, he formed the Bonogin Rural Fire Brigade.  He spent the next 21 years dedicating all his spare time actively assisting at fires in the local area and on various task forces in Queensland and interstate. Neil’s dedication saw him rise through the ranks from 4th Officer to 1st Officer through to 2002.

Neil remembers 2002 most vividly and in particular Friday June 7, 2002.  It was not for a bizarre, and somewhat ironic twist of fate that had seen his house burn to the ground two month before but for another entirely unexpected event.  The previous day he had dropped his son at sport. On the way home he stopped to buy a cooked chicken for dinner snacking a little as he drove.

The next morning (Friday June 7) Neil awoke to find that he could not use his hands and arms and was taken to hospital put in intensive care on a ventilator with the only part of his body he was able to move was to blink. Neil spent the next 7 months in intensive care and on the ventilator.  He had contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves.

Neil then endured 5 months rehabilitation and left hospital one day short of 12 months.  However, he had more testing times ahead.

In 2003 as part of his continuing rehabilitation he had a fall at the hospital breaking both legs in a complex and painful manner.  He endured four months unable to move and in 2004 went back to ‘rehab’ before resuming his duties at the Fire Brigade. With the aid of his wheelchair he went back to the Fire Brigade as Secretary for 6 years and was Chairman until 2015.

It was in 2015 that Neil was seeking a new activity and discovered Sailability Gold Coast and visited as a client.  His time as a client was extremely short because, after witnessing what some of the existing disabled sailors were doing, he quickly thought, in his own words, ‘Bugger it I reckon I can sail’ and promptly signed up as a volunteer skipper.

In 2017 Neil won the 2017 QLD State Championships in a Hansa 2.3.

In 2017 he placed third in the Hansa National Championships on Kogarah Bay in Sydney and in 2018 placed third in the Hansa World Championships in Japan. He placed fifth in the 2019 Hansa Championships in Perth.  He is planning to sail in Canberra in the National titles over Easter 2020 in the Hansa 2.3 class.

In 2018 Neil graduated to a SKUD 18 and sailed in “Sail Melbourne” placing second in the Para Nationals. He will be sailing in the national titles on the Gold Coast in 7-9 August 2020 as part of the Gold Coast Para Winter Championships.

The Winter Championships will be made up of the 2020 SKUD18 Australian Championships and the 2020 Queensland Hansa Class Championships – including 2.3 and 303 singles and doubles and Liberty Servo and Non-Servo categories.  The Championships are conducted under the auspices of the Southport Yacht Club and QLD Para Sailing Academy with Sailability Gold Coast providing volunteer support throughout the training and competition days.

Neil credits Sailability Gold Coast and the QLD Para Sailing Academy with providing him with a prism to clearly see and understand everything and everyone that has been there for him and with him on his Pathway to Achievement.

Those that have shared the pathway with Neil know that it is his courage, dedication, tenacity, resilience and ambition that have, and will continue to see him achieve.

Neil is currently(2020) a valuable committee member of Sailability Gold Coast.

Per ardua ad astra.