I have been involved with Heads Together for so long that I can’t remember the first year I went to camp! Many years later I walked part of the 100km walk for moral support and was chief massage therapist.
The following year, in 2016, Kate convinced me to walk the full 100km. I thought it couldn’t be that hard, how wrong I was. The worst part was the mental challenge, to not let that little voice inside my head tell me I was not able to finish. The pain I went through was nothing compared to what Heads Together families face on a day to day basis and that’s what kept me going.
The 2017 walk was bigger and better with lots of new walkers and a new route. It was such an inspiration having Andrew Bruce and his family join us for the weekend and the Patford family get involved on Sunday. Having Heads Together families join us showed everyone what you can do if you put your mind to it.
The power of numbers made a huge difference in the motivation to finish. I think we would have carried Andrew over the finish line if we had to. It also allowed everyone to walk at their own pace and you never felt like you had to keep up. Luckily this was the case as none of us could ever keep up with Suzy, she was a machine.
For me, my second year was definitely easier than the first. So, everyone who walked this year, you have to come back again next year, I promise it gets easier.
It started with the sudden loss of my Dad and the lightbulb that switched on when I realised that the people who I felt most comfortable with were the families I was working as a kids physio at Vic Rehab, who had also experienced loss and trauma and who just “got it” they knew what to say and how to be.
It made me think why aren’t we bringing these families together, they are the very best people to be supporting each other, through this experience of ABI that no one else can possibly understand
Then I started getting other heads together, I shared my idea with other passionate people and I found Cath Bucolo who had been busy building a network for young people with an ABI. Our ideas connected and we brought together some families who we were working with and Heads Together Camp was born.
From the start is was about respect, listening to families and what they needed and wanted, it was about putting families first and understanding that they were the experts and we were the ones who needed to learn.
It was about courage, about trying something new and putting yourself out there and believing in the team you were part of. It was about the courage of our first families, people like the McKirdy’s whose kids are all here today as part of our volunteer team. They were 3, 8 and 11 when they first came to camp, and they’ve all been the backbone of our camp kids ever since. It was also about the courage of our first volunteers, like Aaron Purnell, who was our first ABI volunteer and who went from being a 21year old coping with an ABI to becoming a peer mentor and amazing sounding board for parents at camp to finally have someone to talk to about the possibilities for their kids in the future.
It was also about generosity, starting with the generosity of my wonderful Mum Barb who provided the funds to allow Heads Together Camp to become a reality. It was about the generosity of the YMCA who took a chance on our inexperienced crew and gave us the partnership and camp skills we needed. And it’s still about the generosity of all our incredible volunteers who keep coming back to create this amazing space for families to relax and connect.
And along the way camp has become very much about acceptance, about being part of a community who really get that every ABI is different and that we all manage in different ways. It’s about understanding that the experiences families have been through bind us all together as a community and a big extended family who are there to share the ups and the downs, to support others and be supported. Camp gives us all the opportunity to create something meaningful and good from the hard times that you’ve all been through.
I was blown away by the community of incredibly warm, kind and courageous people who welcomed me in like an old friend.
As a physiotherapist I frequently work with young people and their families during their most challenging periods; following a new diagnosis, after a significant injury or accident, or during periods of very ill-health. One of my goals for volunteering at camp was to experience and support families during their happier times… and this I definitely did!
I was blown away by the community of incredibly warm, kind and courageous people who welcomed me in like an old friend. The stories of what Heads Together has meant and continues to mean to families and volunteers alike were truly inspiring. I experienced a community where people felt safe enough to share their vulnerabilities and fears, yet supported enough to develop new skills and confidence to achieve their goals. Heads Together has clearly created a community supporting people to thrive.
The weekend was full of so many warm and fuzzy moments, I left feeling invigorated, inspired and enriched.
My experience has been fantastic. I was apprehensive when I first attended Heading Out at the Wharf Hotel, but upon discovering the other individuals who are dealing with issues I am facing, it just worked. The food and company is fantastic and it’s a great outlet for the issues you face on a daily basis and to openly express yourself.
Sadly, Australia is well behind the rest of the modern world in the treatment of brain injuries. As a result, the group is great for individuals to pass on any treatments which have worked or been effective.
Heading Out is a social group of young adults who have suffered head injuries. They can vary in severity but we are all living with disabilities or impairments.
“Let me spread my wings & learn how to fly – again”
Heads Together and the ABILiTy program helps people with an ABI get together and build life skills. I’ve relearned how to socially conduct myself and work with other people with an ABI. I’ve made new friends and learned how to navigate life. I hope to be able to work my own way into specific courses e.g. further education.
Since a car accident in December 2013 left Nick with a severe brain injury he has come a long way from coma to joining the ABI Leadership Team.
Now as I look back to walking the 100kms for Heads Together I can reflect on the difficulties and the personal rewards that such an event presented for me.
Waves of euphoria surge through my body, explosive bouts of energy allow me to move and my limbs pump with energy. I want to live here, it is a place of all knowing, I am manically obsessed. Small incidental thoughts become wondrous worlds to focus my imagination. I see with absolute clarity, acute detail and grandiose schemes are all seen with equal precision.
Even in the midst of this epiphanic state however, another part of my mind knows that my body is failing, permanence becomes temporary, euphoria turns to despondence and even my transcendental mind becomes incapable of simple thought. My lower body detaches from me as though it is no longer mine. In its place is only pain and even small movements take everything I have. I am dependant on the next wave of euphoria.
I can see a correlation to the struggles that Reuben, my son who lives with an ABI, has had to go through and continues to go through everyday. I chose to challenge myself, to push past the point where my body said stop. For Reuben he has no choice. Reuben meets challenge face on and with a beautiful smile. Reuben inspires me more than he knows. Heads Together support Reuben, they support myself and my family. Together as a team we all supported each other to walk 100kms and in doing so I feel as though I am better person.
I don’t remember life before Heads Together Camp. For me there never was a life before camp. My peers have no idea of the world of Heads Together and I am grateful that my family and me have had these times together to be part of this amazing world. If I hadn’t I would be just like everyone else – ignorant and unaware of a whole new life.
Without camp I would be like all other teenage girls arrogant and selfish but I have been to camp ever since I was three years old and I have learned so much. I have learned that people with disabilities can be so strong, so courageous and so determined. I know now that people at camp are not just people that I tolerate or be kind to because I feel sorry for them but they are real people that I value as friends forever.
Meagan’s older sister suffered a stroke in 1999 at the age of 6.