By Jasmine Dingle
There’s something intoxicating about the idea of a long drive. It’s usually a transition, not a destination in and of itself, and so the hours hang as an almost blank space in time that is not filled until it actually happens. Whether it’s a long conversation, a podcast, the same song 50 times because you’re out of reception and forgot to download your music, or just staring out at the changing landscape, it’s a break from the constant busy-ness and scheduling of our day to day lives. Making those drives in an old car adds a whole new level of anticipation and excitement – will we make it? Or will we be stuck on the side of some remote highway, figuring out how to nurse the thing back to life?
It’s a situation Chris and I have found ourselves in probably enough times to know better. Whether it’s patching the bottom of our Breaking Bad RV in Mexico after taking it on dirt track misleading named ‘Highway 1’, zip-tying the bumper back on the rental by the side of the road after hitting an unfortunate kangaroo at dusk, or trying to figure out how to cool down a van on the side of a mountain when it’s already -15 degrees, it tests your adaptability, patience and, sometimes, your relationship. What stands out as a common factor through all, is that when the going gets rough, it takes people coming together to make it work.
When Chris and I signed up for The Sh*tBox Rally, it was because, like most, we had been touched by the devastating impact of cancer. It always struck me as the perfect metaphor. Like a long drive in a sh*tbox car, it’s unfathomably hard to face cancer on your own. It takes people coming together, pushing through the rough tracks and the sticking points, the pain, the dips and the crests. The Sh*tbox Rally which is a really long drive. It’s an adventure, it’s people coming together, and it’s one of the biggest fundraisers for the Cancer Council.
A few weeks after saying yes to Sh*tbox Summer Rally 2023, our lives came crashing down. Chris suffered a T12 Spinal Cord Injury in a paragliding accident, resulting in complete paraplegia. The darkness closed in and the excitement of planning for the rally became an impossibly distant memory. As we came up for air and began to learn what this injury and diagnosis meant for us, the rally became a light peering out of the gloom, becoming slowly brighter and more defined as people rallied around to help. The doctors, working to make sure that Chris was medically strong enough. An ex-patient showing up to the hospital with a converted car, allowing us to see that it’s possible to return to driving. A return to driving program offering to fast-track Chris’ licensing process. A company offering to convert a car. Numerous OTs and Physios working on car transfers, skills and equipment. The rally team preparing breakdowns of the accessibility of each stopover point. An ex-rally participant, the first to complete the rally in a wheelchair, spending hours talking about her experience, so we don’t have to do it all in the dark. And throughout it all, new friends and old working tirelessly to make sure Chris (and I) knew that life, adventure and freedom go on.
We are new to the world of accessibility, of disability. I am sure that there will be things that come along more regularly than we would like on this adventure that we hadn’t thought about, haven’t faced, and will have to deal with. We have realised that a Spinal Cord Injury, like cancer, like a long drive in a sh*tbox car, is really hard to do on your own. It tests your mental determination, your strength, your adaptability and your relationships. But we have also realised that people are amazingly generous, supportive, and excited to see you succeed once you start that journey.
This rally has become more than it was to us when we signed up. It’s a goal, a light in a world that at the moment feels constantly uncertain and plagued with fears of not making it. It’s a way to prove to ourselves that life doesn’t have to stop when you or someone you love suffers a spinal cord injury, that you can still do what you love, can still set out on that long drive with all of its anticipation and uncertainty.
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