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Cameron Joyce served 13 years in the military, operated in three war zones, trained daily, lived hard and partied harder, but never did he think he’d be faced with never walking again.

WORDS Cameron Joyce | IMAGES Carl Hensel 


The big fall

On July 8th 2012 I was evicted from the Coogee Bay Hotel for being too drunk (blood test revealed I was .36). I headed back to a friend’s place to party on. Upon reaching the front door, I couldn't find the keys to get in (they were under door mat), so I climbed out of a four storey window and attempted to leap from the window to the balcony and grab the guard rail then climb over. Needless to say, the thongs I was wearing were unsuitable for climbing. My fingers touched the guard rail and I slipped and fell three storeys. The back of my head, neck and shoulders hit a concrete ledge at first storey level with enough force to flip me over onto my stomach.

I managed to tear the back of my head off which required 68 stitches and staples, I fractured my C5/C6 vertebrae in my neck and damaged my spinal cord. I broke six ribs, collapsed both lungs and broke my right wrist.

Because it was mid-winter I got hyperthermia to top it all off. It took a couple of hours for friends to find me, and by the time the ambulance arrived, I was in a bad way. I suffered a cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to hospital due to injuries and hyperthermia. I died for five minutes. There were no lights waiting for me, just a deep very relaxing darkness, nothing to fear.

Upon arriving to St Vincent's hospital, I was scanned and re-bandaged then transported to the Royal North Shore Hospital where I was placed in an induced coma.


Waking up

I was in the coma for two weeks. When I awoke in a packed hospital ward, I knew I'd finally pushed it too far but I wasn't aware how far. The doctors told me I had fractured my C5/C6 vertebrae, it was an incomplete injury which meant that the spinal cord wasn't severed but damaged enough to be to be told I'd never walk again. Due to the position of the fractures in my neck, the branches of the spinal cord at that level meant my arms would move but below my waist would never move again, I was diagnosed a paraplegic. My hands were locked closed and my skin was hyper-sensitive due to nerve damage, if you touched me I'd cry from the pain.

I was being fed, washed and had my ass wiped by the same person, I had complete dependency upon the one person.

From someone who spent 13 years in the military, operated in three war zones, trained daily, lived hard and partied harder this was the hardest thing to adjust to. I used to cry from the nerve pain as they could only medicate me so much. But at no stage did I think I'd never walk again.

My short term memory was gone, I was in a hyper-emotional state due to the head injury which meant I'd just cry spontaneously or from watching the Special Olympics or Neighbours. I suffered from survivor’s guilt and underwent counselling to help with memory loss and other associated issues. I was lucky to have friends that took care of my financial responsibilities and provided support where possible.

Physio at that stage concentrated on my hands, having my fingers stretched back in braces to loosen up the muscle to allow eventual movement. The pain from that was unbelievable and I spent a lot of time crying, it was horrific. I was also getting around in a motorised wheelchair. 


Regaining movement

At about the seven-week mark my toes started to move, I knew then that my wheelchair days were over. I asked for crutches and proceeded to drag myself around the ward daily until fatigue in my arms set in and I rested. My legs gradually moved again and, coupled with my physio, I was shuffling slightly but I was moving.

I'd lost 43 kilos by this stage due to the nerve damage, which basically meant that if the nerves couldn't fire then the body didn't need the muscle bulk. I was 51kg and couldn't lift a 1kg dumbbell. The sight of my body was another cause of tears, but I was moving, stiffly, slowly but I was moving and I was not about to lie down and give up. 


Getting back in the gym

I was eventually discharged four months post-fall. I had to sign a legal waiver to give to my gym to allow me to train there again. Looking like a skeleton, devoid of muscle, and being stared at by everyone was a mental obstacle too. It's horrible, but you keep going, you don't give up. I set small goals which I aimed to meet weekly, even if it was a 5kg gain, it was a gain.

I was walking twice a day and training daily. I was lifting the bar and curling a 5kg dumbbell but I was there and making gradual gains. If you think losing 41kg is a head f**k, try going from benching three plates to struggling under an Olympic bar free from weight.

My diet was purely Paleo and it worked for the 12 months I used it. Sure, I ate junk food but five meals were clean: meat, fruit, veg and water. I didn't touch alcohol or soft drink for a long time, my bladder took a while to adjust when I eventually tried a beer again.

12 months later, I was back to 85kg. My body was back, my memory returned and my emotional state calmed down a bit, but I was still prone to occasional outbursts of tears, usually from a sad movie or song. It would end as briefly as it started. 


Nothing left to prove

I continued training and eating clean. In October 2014, I decided to diet down. I consulted Steve Baudo, a dietician and conditioning specialist, and he advised me for five months. I lost 18kg, got down to 75kg at six per cent body-fat and had a 28 inch waist.

I promised myself that once I had control of my body again, I'd push myself physically to see what I could achieve. The mind is a powerful thing and you can continue long after your body says no. You can never give up on yourself. Your dreams and goals are only limited by your self-belief and hunger to achieve. I have nothing left to prove and only wish to live life to its fullest.


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