For those of you who don't know your story, tell us what led you to where you are today?
My life took a very unexpected turn in September of 2009 when I dove into a resort swimming pool and became a quadriplegic weeks before my 21st birthday. I actually truly believe that once I got through the emotional hardship of this, that this moment was when my life began because it’s when I started looking at my life as being precious. Sure, I had goals and aspirations prior to becoming injured, but I now had so much gratitude for every day moving forward that I wanted to ensure the rest of my life would become the absolute best days of my life. In saying that, I have absolutely done more with the last 13 years than I could ever have imagined. From creating and building a not-for-profit recovery facility for people who have experienced physical and emotional traumas, to having the opportunity to share my journey via public speaking and even wheeling down runways at Melbourne Fashion Week. But best of all, I have become independent in every aspect of my life which has been a huge stepping stone from the predictions made by the medical team when I was first injured.
We have adored seeing you rock Spell over the years, how did you find the brand?
To be completely honest I can’t remember how I first came across Spell, though what I do remember is that after visiting the store for the first time in 2017 while being on a disability support pension, I promised myself that I was going to work so damn hard so that one day I could buy myself a Spell gown. Fast forward to now and I have quite a collection!
Where do you like to wear it most?
Any place is the perfect place to wear Spell! You’ll find me in the garden in Spell, on stage in front of suits in Spell, but yes, always amongst my animals in Spell! Funnily enough my cat Jolene is obsessed with my Spell rack in my office and it’s one of her favourite places to sleep!
What would you say is your favourite quote or life motto?
Well, I actually have two. One I’ll quote from the legendary Marilyn Monroe which is tattooed up my arm, “Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can come together”, and secondly by Gandhi,"Be the change you want to see in the world." This is one I strongly live by as there have been so many moments that I have experienced in my life where someone or something I’ve needed just hasn’t been there. For example, when I was looking for hope laying in a hospital bed and needed someone who could provide me with a no BS interpretation of what my life might look like moving forward, or when I’ve noticed that disability representation is lacking, or something isn’t accessible or inclusive within the world we live in today. If it isn’t there, I’ll either create it, or work with a community of people to change it.
Tell us about your epic, amazing, luscious hair. What are your go-to products?
Oh my gosh that’s so easy: dry shampoo - for those days where you either just can’t be bothered washing your hair, but also to create fullness and give your hair texture. I love big bouncy hair so mine is generally full of dry shampoo. I also can’t live without a good moisturising hair treatment or oil mask. I usually make up my own using pumpkin seed oil, lavender and peppermint. It’s a great scalp treatment and growth stimulant!
And we know you love makeup as an artist yourself, what is your favourite makeup product?
I feel like this changes way too often, but currently it’s eyebrow gel. I just feel put together when my eyebrows aren’t running wild on my face. I think eyebrows really shape and frame your face too, so something as simple as taming them can change your whole look.
We have been told by our friend with a disability about garment accessibility and how important it is to have access to garments that are easy to get on and off. Do you find this a challenge yourself finding pieces that suit your needs?
Something I have learnt over the years is that until you are put into a situation where this becomes relevant to you personally, we just don’t know what we don’t know. I had no idea just how much of an issue this would be until it was one and I couldn’t dress myself and had such limited access to what I could wear. I had my accident during the skinny leg jeans era, and I still remember my nurse telling me I’d never wear skinny leg jeans again and that made me so mad as I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind this. Let me tell you - that isn’t just skinny jeans, it’s all items of clothing with tiny buttons and buttonholes and zippers. I generally have to modify zippers by adding a bobby pin to them so I can grip them better and I cut buttonholes bigger so that I have more room to maneuver my hands to do buttons up. I call these my “quad hacks”. Much like sizing diversity, if this was taken into consideration during the creation process of clothing it would be life changing for the disability community!
We know you speak about your life around the country - what is the message you are trying to tell people? What has been the most meaningful engagement you have had during one of these talks?
I began sharing my journey to audiences to encourage resilience and just hold space for people so they can be re-assured that every moment is temporary and that it is possible to turn your pain into purpose. I have endured more emotional turmoil than I did physically in the years after my accident that I found way more challenging than becoming a quadriplegic. What I know though is this; we all experience emotional trauma, throughout our lives in one way or another. We all also process it differently and most of the time that trauma is completely out of our control, although the outcome isn’t and this is where we are given the option to choose what we want to and what we get to do with this experience. That right there is the message. We can grow through what we go through!
I have spoken to some of the country’s largest organisations and it still astounds me how common it is for people to silence themselves when they are facing a challenge or needing some extra support. The best feeling is providing a space where they feel safe to share this with me or the audience and that opens additional conversations after I give the talk. I’ve seen people make huge changes within themselves but also become great advocates and allies for the disability community as while we may be the largest minority group in the world, we are still the most invisible and need allies like yourselves to raise awareness in the need for access and inclusion.
Finally - tell us what is next for you!
I was a veterinary nurse prior to my injury and while I have an array of pets that keep me busy I have been wanting to find a bigger way to incorporate animals back into my working life. They have played such a significant role in my healing so I’d love to have an extension of my recovery facility that is an animal therapy retreat where people can come and engage with animals and experience the incredible healing modality that is animals.