DARRON SHIELDS HAS ALWAYS been a keen triathlete.
But in 2002, while training for a triathlon in the UK, his life was changed forever.
Darron was involved in a cycling accident that left him with permanent damage to his spinal cord.
“I was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery to pin fractures in both my neck and spine,” he recalls.
“My rehabilitation program took six months in hospital, including eight weeks in a collar to repair the broken bones in my neck that could not be pinned.”
Darron says the lengthy stay in hospital meant his whole life had to be put on hold.
But as someone who had always lived life to the full – and thanks to his ethos of focussing on the here and now – he was soon making plans for a bright future.
Eighteen months after the accident, Darron and his family migrated to Australia where he enrolled in a sports science degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
He says completing his studies in 2008 was the greatest achievement of his life, but that was just the start.
Determined not to become a victim of his spinal cord injury, Darron has continued to fuel his passion for triathlons.
With a handcycle and racing chair, Darron has completed the Noosa Triathlon, the Hervey Bay 100, the World Series Swims and the gruelling 70.3 Ironman.
“I got into sports very quickly with handcycling and found my passion again in 2010 with para-triathlon events,” he says.
Darron is now the Injury Prevention program administrator for the east-coast arm of the Paraplegic Benefit Fund (PBF).
He is also a presenter for PBF’s injury prevention programs at schools and workplaces.
The injury prevention program is designed to help people realise the risks in everyday life through the sharing of personal stories of spinal cord injury.
The PBF is a membership-based organisation offering crucial financial protection in the event of a permanent spinal cord injury such as Darron’s.
In locations such as the Sunshine Coast, where many of us enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, such prevention has never been so important.
Every day someone in Australia suffers a spinal cord injury.
That’s about 350 people per year and the scary thing is a spinal cord injury can happen to anyone, at any time, doing anything.
More than 40 per cent of spinal cord injuries occur through motor vehicle-related accidents, 28 per cent are related to falls, and nine per cent are water related.
For Darron, the often-emotional experience of sharing his story is worth it if he can help prevent even one spinal cord injury.
Darron and the other PBF presenters also work closely with people who have suffered a spinal cord injury and help them re-enter the workplace.
For Darron, this is deeply important work.
“The fund allows people to be employed, to get back out there, and that’s the biggest part of what we do, for me.
By us sharing our darkest day and the message that it can happen to anyone, we’re giving people the self-esteem to go back out into the community and bring in an income,” he says.
“We’re supporting people living with a spinal cord injury.”
The PBF says the best way to prevent a spinal cord injury is to understand how it can happen.
Driving down a dirt road, bushwalking, jumping into the ocean and other behaviours that might not seem that risky can all result in injuries to the spinal cord.
A PBF spokesperson says making smarter choices while doing normal things can help keep you safe.
“This does not mean you have to stop having fun, rather that you need to just take a moment and assess the waterway before diving in, and always go feet first, not head first,” the spokesperson says.
“Slow down and take in your surrounds and look for trip hazards while bushwalking.
When driving, make sure you give 100 per cent of your attention.”
Members of the PBF provide financial protection for themselves and their families in the event of a spinal cord injury.
PBF members also support people living with a spinal cord injury and membership fees employ presenters who then share their personal stories in the hope of preventing more spinal cord injuries.
For Darron, his work has a twin purpose.
“I want to share the message on safety because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.
But I also want to show people with spinal cord injuries that you can live a good life, a positive life, after a spinal cord injury,” he says.
“Just keep moving.”
words joleneogle photos hing ang