By Charles Brice
There’s not a word that encapsulates the sudden inability to move a muscle, but “lonely” comes close.
After reaching for my pocket to retrieve my phone, I realised my body refused to obey me.
Unable to call for help, I was forced to wait for someone to arrive, with only an immense sense of isolation and a wandering mind for company.
So there I was, Charles Brice: a motorbike rider, a footballer, a brother and a son, laying face up in the dirt, fighting for every breath of air.
Invincible no more.
I was gifted my first motorbike on Christmas morning only months after my fourth birthday.
That day began a 15-year love affair. I was hooked on the adrenaline of being on two wheels — or sometimes just one.
Raising funds for spinal research will involve handcycling more than 300 kilometres. (Supplied)
It was a Tuesday night in May 2010 when I received a phone call from my great mate, asking if I would live and work on his family’s farm in Paruna, in South Australia’s Murray Mallee region.
I jumped at the chance and resigned from my job in Adelaide, packed up everything I owned and moved the next day.
Having already experienced farm life, I thought I knew what I was in for, but I hadn’t anticipated falling so head over heels in love.
But my life on the farm was kept to just a sweet six weeks.
The day of the accident
A motorbike ride with friends on the morning of June 26 began just like the countless that occurred beforehand.
I was riding the slower farm bike and strayed to the back of the group from the outset, before losing sight of the seven bikes in front of me as we weaved along the endless tracks and through the trees.
Regrouping every 20 minutes was my only way of catching up, before watching my mates disappear again.
Close to home, approaching the slightest bend in the track, I hit a succession of bumps, each slightly bigger than the last.
Everyone else in front had navigated over those same bumps.
But it was my motorbike that came to a sudden stop as the front wheel dug into the heaped earth.
I hurtled over the handlebars and landed head-first on the soft sand.
It took around 30 minutes for the sound of an approaching motorbike to break the silence of the calm country air, but it was the sound of safety, the sound of life over death.
Unbeknownst to me, I had shattered two vertebrae in my neck and completely severed my spinal cord.
Less than 24 hours later, doctors told me I’d never walk again and that I’d be a quadriplegic for the rest of my life.
Having not walked since, I really have to commend them for their spot-on diagnosis.
I was met at the Royal Adelaide Hospital by my tearful parents and sister, and all I could do was apologise for ruining their Saturday night plans.
I was soon sedated, ventilated and operated on, and was kept alive by machines and staff in ICU for 52 days before I called the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre home for the next 14 months.
A journey both physical and emotional
When I entered the rehabilitation centre, I was weak, immobile and unable to lift my arms to scratch my nose.
I used an electric wheelchair and avoided every mirror I could. I was a mere shell of the person I used to be.
But, on my last day in rehab, I wheeled myself out independently in a manual chair.
I can now reach for my phone, I can now scratch my nose, and I can do a hell of a lot more.
I live by myself, I can drive a car, I finished a journalism degree and I am now a digital reporter for ABC News, as well as co-founder of Wheel To Walk.
Nine years on from my accident, I’m yet to return to the site where I lost more than just sensation and function.
But on October 16, I will be going back with 30 other people including some of my closest friends and family, some of whom were there on that day in 2010.
From there, I will be handcycling more than 300 kilometres to Adelaide across four days with the aim of raising $100,000, all of which will go towards first-class research into finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.
I will be recreating my fateful journey — from Paruna to Adelaide — not for the purpose of self-promotion, but to give hope and to make a difference to the 15,000 other Australians who are also affected.
I have been in training for this since January. Still, I’m aware that the trip will be undeniably gruelling, painful and emotional.
But I’m also aware that those feelings will be dwarfed in comparison to what 400 people go through every year when they too, are told they will never walk again.
Although I am happy and content, and now view my life as just an expensive hobby, my will to one day walk again is now stronger than ever.
Charles Brice is a digital producer for ABC News in Adelaide and is currently fundraising for spinal injury research.