Can you give us a bit of background about you, and how you fell in love with traveling?
I grew up in a small town about 200 km south of Perth, forever searching for things to do in the wide open spaces of Western Australia with friends, getting into trouble, or mostly just chasing girls. I really loved surfing and anything with regards to the sea from a young age. I suppose that’s where my interest for traveling started off and also I have a huge family, scatted all around Australia so it’s good to visit them for Christmas, holidays and birthdays etc., and to see the sights as well.
Can you let us know a bit more about your medical conditions, and how they came about?
My life turned upside down completely when I was sixteen. Some good friends and I wanted to go fishing and camping at the coast but when we arrived, the sea was extremely rough so we decided to have a beach party with some other people we met there. When the beer ran dry I was assigned to drive back into town to get more supplies, still underage to get a license and inexperienced like mad, but the other mates were sleeping or passed out in the car, so I had no choice. I remember only starting the car and then waking up in the intensive care unit after three weeks from a drug enforced coma, couldn’t move my body or talk and seeing my parents looking very worried. Even now, more than twenty years later, I still don’t recall anything from after jumping into the driver’s seat, although the doctors said to me, sometimes the brain blocks out traumatic events which they don’t quite understand, probably to save the brain itself from horror.
I had severe head injuries and broken bones throughout my body, worst of all I suffered paralysis or right side hemiplegia, and when the doctors and my parents thought I was well enough to handle it, they told me what had happened, saying I smashed into a big tree at night and one of my friends is in the same hospital as me in Perth with a badly broken leg and crushed hand. The other friend died at the scene from massive internal injuries. I was devastated, and could not believe I did so much damage but couldn’t remember anything about it. I spent eight months in hospital and many years trying to get better; I had to learn to walk and talk again or actually do everything from scratch again, but I can get around fine now and do everything like normal, although with a big limp – it looks like there’s a stick in my bum as a right leg and mostly one handed because my arm didn’t come back very well unfortunately. But I adapted quick, luckily. I have always been left side dominant and most of all, I’ve had so many wonderful adventures and met heaps of special people since, so it really is a blessing in a lot of ways to see another side of life!
In what ways is traveling more difficult due to the lingering conditions you have after your car crash? How do you overcome these difficulties?
I can deal with just about everything which comes my way but I can clearly remember the first time I went to Indonesia or actually, first time overseas for that matter, and was amazed. My introduction to the place was guards with machine guns just outside the door of the plane – I’d never seen anything like it. Walking around I was very concerned with the uneven ground and broken pavement all over the place because it feels like my ankle is welded into one position constantly, and the stairs without handrails everywhere. I am very fit but walking up or down steps, one at a time without anything to hang on to makes me a bit uneasy at the best of times, like vertigo or something, although all the locals are very kind and helpful (if you have a pocket full of money of course) and I guess that’s where I fell in love with Asia in the beginning.
Also with places like Singapore, Tokyo or most of Asia I have found, there is just no space – people coming at you flat out all day and it takes so long to do anything. I know I am a very impatient person, wanting things to happen instantly, and I suppose this comes from being from a country like Australia, where some days you might not see anyone at all if you like. Also I’m a very shy person, so people staring at you like you’re a rock star all the time is fun but intimidating as well sometimes.
I can completely understand it is very difficult to overcome some situations for a lot of disabled people, and the first time is always scary like hell but for me, the more I get out and face the world, the easier it becomes, like the Nickelback song says:: “What Are You Waiting For”??
You mentioned to me that Japan wasn’t terribly great about people with disabilities. Can you tell us a bit more about this? Again, how did you deal with this while there?
As I mentioned above, it is so much fun having people look at you like you’re famous or something all the time because in Japan you rarely see Westerners. But the more time I spent there I could see the dark side of it, mostly with the guys and especially when alcohol was involved. I don’t want to seem ungrateful or anything, I had the best time in Japan, living out my childhood dream. Since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated with the culture and watched all the voice over Japanese TV programs I could, played Ninja’s in the backyard and even nicked metal for sale signs from the front of houses to cut out throwing stars to try them at kangaroos – yeah shocking I know, but fun!
What I found most difficult is there’s just no affection or communication, like people are scared to open up or engage with anyone, a silent race or country of strangers I thought. Also the Japanese are very proper and formal, so if you don’t look or act the same way, they seem to not know how to deal with it.
So yes, there aren’t many allowances and services for disabled people and also you never see any locals with disabilities, I guess they are just in nursing homes? Although I was beginning to feel like an alien the longer I stayed there.
You also mentioned a bout of anxiety you suffered in Japan. Being someone who also suffers from anxiety, I’d love to know how you dealt with it in such an overcrowded place! Can you let us know a bit more about that?
Unfortunately I didn’t deal with it very well at all until I returned to Australia. I visited doctors over there and they gave me many different antidepressants, but the pills made me worse, vomiting every day for about a month and other side effects. Also with the language barrier, I could have been taking anything? I just didn’t have a clue what was happening to me. I was having the time of my life, although I received some news from home that rocked me so this could have been the trigger?
Some days I was even frightened to go outside because as soon as I left the front door I was enveloped by hundreds of people and I guess with all the tall buildings around, I didn’t see the sun for about two years or not much anyway, staving for natural vitamin D I think. But I am really embarrassed to say, the only way I could cope was with a swig or mouth full of whisky or something similar just before I went outside. Yeah very bad, I know, but alcohol seems to dull your senses or relaxes the fear a little and you have all the confidence in the world, although it doesn’t last!
As I said before, I’m very shy normally but full on anxiety is totally different as I am sure you know!
Are there some countries you’ve found more difficult to travel? Why?
I am sure everywhere has some challenges and even for able people or in your own country, I can’t really say one country is worse than another. We just have to adapt and make the most out of the experience. There are always people to help and who knows, you might make a wonderful connection with someone, friends for life! In saying that, I think the non-English speaking countries are a struggle sometimes, especially if you have some trouble, health related, travel plans, or the laws etc., and travelling by yourself.
On the other hand, are some countries easier to travel with your conditions – whether due to terrain, the attitudes of the people there, etc.?
I can honestly say I have had a great time everywhere I’ve travelled. Yes, there have been many obstacles along the way, but overall I have very good memories of it all and met a lot of fantastic people!
But yes there also is heaps of narrow minded and self centered people out there who just look the other way or straight through you but hey, they will never know what life is really about because they haven’t experienced it all, like we have! Heartache, the struggles every day etc., but most of all, the joy!!
Do you think that you see the world from a different perspective, given the challenges you must face on a day to day basis? How so?
Yes of course, totally! I have the greatest respect for disabled people ever since, from me being fit and able or bulletproof to instantly nearly losing my life and injured for the rest of it, but I’m very embarrassed it has taken tragedy to see a whole new way of thinking.
What has been your hardest (and perhaps proudest!) moment on the road where you had to overcome a difficultly due to your conditions?
The hardest and proudest moment would have to be arriving at the Gold Coast QLD after driving more than 6000 km, mostly with one leg and one arm, eight days, from west to east of Australia with only my dog as company, and then driving back to WA a year and a half later. So many wonderful places in between and very fond memories! From a little kid, I have always wanted to travel around Australia and can’t wait to continue my adventure again someday!!
Okay, full bragging rights now – what’s the most bad ass thing you’ve done while traveling?
Probably the worst was sneaking the dog into hotel rooms for the night all the way across Australia and back again; I was nearly caught so many times and would have had to pay heaps for fumigation and thorough cleaning. Or actually, the most embarrassing and awkward moments would have to be, nude hot springs in Japan with everyone staring because I was the only westerner in the place.
What’s your advice to anyone out there who wants to travel, but is afraid their disability might hold them back?
Just have a go! A little at a time if you like and don’t be scared if you fail, learn from it, dust yourself off and try again.
I sincerely wish everyone, all the very best with whatever you do and thank you for reading my story!!
Any final thoughts?
Just please have fun!!
Thanks so much to Scott for sharing his experiences! If you’d like to be my next interviewee, contact me for more details!
And be sure to check out more interviews with people who don’t let anything hold them back – click here!