• Overcoming the loss of mobility: Justin Eveson’s story

Overcoming the loss of mobility: Justin Eveson’s story

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Like many Australian boys, Justin Eveson grew up living and breathing sport and dreamt of one day playing basketball for Australia.

Then, in 1993 at the age of 12, Justin was involved in an accident with a lawn aerating machine. His right leg was amputated below the knee. But instead of quashing his dreams, the traumatic experience gave Justin the resolve to overcome any obstacles thrown in his way. Staying active was initially an important part of Justin’s rehabilitation. Over time, Justin’s natural talent and perseverance lead him to competitive swimming and wheelchair basketball.

Today, Justin is the main man in Australia’s wheelchair basketball team, the Rollers, who he led to a Silver medal in the Athens Paralympics and to the pinnacle of Gold in Beijing. Justin is currently preparing for the 2012 London Paralympics, plays for the Perth Wheelcats and works fulltime as Membership and Participation Officer for Wheelchair Sports WA. In-between this hectic schedule, Justin caught up with Bluesky to describe how courage and determination can lead you wherever you want to go in life — regardless of your age or any physical limitations.

Bluesky: What are some of the barriers that you have needed to overcome as a result of losing your leg?

Justin: The main barrier was people telling me I couldn’t do something just because I had a disability. This never sat very well with me (and still doesn’t). In high school, sports teachers would tell me that I couldn’t participate in the athletics carnival as I was on crutches. I ended up running the 400 metre race on crutches just to prove I could do it — although I came dead last! I also entered the high jump which I did without crutches — basically hopping up to the bar and hopping over it. I actually won that event!

I understand now that it wasn’t really the teachers’ fault for trying to exclude me. It was more to do with their lack of education and understanding. I now devote a lot of time to community education about disability awareness issues, particularly in my role as an ambassador for the Disability Services Commission ‘Count Me In’ program.

Is there a favourite story that you like to share with people about how you have overcome a specific setback in your life?

I do enjoy telling people about when I was first learning to walk again once I was fitted for my first prosthesis (which was very primitive when compared to today’s standards). I worked with Steve Smith, a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the fitness industry and we basically used to walk around the old East Perth footy oval, slowly at first, building up from a ¼ lap to a ½ lap. Every time that I dropped my shoulder and limped, he made me do 20 push-ups. I quickly learnt not to limp and now walk very well with a prosthesis!

Staying motivated and continually reaching for new goals is a challenge for everyone. How do you keep yourself motivated and constantly aiming higher?

There are always new goals and new challenges after you reach any pinnacle you have set yourself. I don’t think there is a ceiling to the level of performance I can give and this is what motivates me to keep striving: to be better the next time than I was the last time.

What words of encouragement would you give to a young person who suddenly has to deal with a loss of mobility?

That there are always challenges in life and you always have a choice in how you deal with them: you can get down on yourself and only see the negative side, or you can pick yourself up and keep going the best you can with a positive attitude. It’s how you resolve to react and deal with challenges that define you as a person, and that resolve will help you to be successful in business, sport and family life.

It’s also important to realise that you are not alone and there are many organisations that can provide financial, personal and moral support. For me, Wheelchair Sports WA has been instrumental in giving me the opportunity to get involved in sport and to reach the elite level.

What words of encouragement would you give to an older person who is struggling with being less mobile than they once were?

I think it is often more difficult for an older person to come to terms with a loss of mobility as they are more accustomed to their lifestyle and often have trouble adjusting and accepting assistance from others. I can only say that your twilight years are no reason to stop striving to live life to the fullest, to be active in the community and to enjoy yourself with family and friends.

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