16 August 2023

Unbreakable spirit: Kiama dad Grant Wilson inspires in the Focus On Ability Short Film Awards

| Dione David
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Kiama man Grant Wilson in a wheelchair with his arms raised triumphantly.

Grant Wilson’s resilience combines with the support of his community to send a clear message – he’s not done yet. Photos: Grant Wilson.

Strength was forged in the fires of adversity for Kiama’s Grant Wilson. Before “the accident”, to say he was active would be an understatement. He was an ultra-marathon runner, a powerlifter and an avid mountain biker. If it involved physical activity, it was right up his alley.

When COVID-19 nixed his family’s plans to go on a snow holiday, he decided to take them bike riding at a local track where he encountered an apparatus called the “whalebone” – three rolling humps.

“Being the ‘fun parent’ – a title I had held for many years – and thinking I was indestructible, I decided to ride that apparatus. I lined my bike up in front of it and as I went over the first hump, something went wrong,” he says.

“It’s a bit blurry, but I think the tyre came off one side and I got flung into the air. I landed on my head on the wooden uprise of the next rollover.

“Life changed in that moment.”

It’s a moment he has catalogued in his short film I’m Not Finished Yet, a finalist in the Australian documentary section of the NOVA Employment 2023 Focus On Ability Short Film Awards.

Designed to encourage filmmakers to focus on the ability of people with disabilities, the audience capacity far exceeds 1.5 million people, providing invaluable exposure for people with disabilities to bring their message to the world.

I’m Not Finished Yet tells Grant’s story starting from that fateful day right up until last month, when he went skiing for the first time. Incredible feats feature regularly in the documentary, which explores how the physically strong and mentally resilient man responded after the tragic accident left him as a quadriplegic.

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The film shares the moving moments that led Grant to decide, with the loving support of his family, friends and community, he would push his body to its limits to see how far his recovery could take him.

“The doctors told me I would never walk again. But I do love to prove people wrong, and I’ve been working hard,” he says.

“I was determined to get mobile. I’m a wheelchair user but I can, with great determination and enormous effort walk about 10 steps or about 5 m without a mobility aid.

“My spinal cord injury is incomplete spinal cord injury, but I have no sensation from the neck down. It’s taken me two years to retrain my brain to be able to move my body with no sensation.

“I can now stand up on my own. It doesn’t look pretty, it takes a whole lot of effort but that mobility has made a huge difference in my life.”

Grant Wilson uses an exoskeleton machine at Wollongong rehabilitation clinic Robofit

Grant used exoskeleton technology at Wollongong rehabilitation clinic RoboFit to aid his recovery efforts.

He credits this unfathomably strong mindset to a challenging past growing up in foster care.

“I had a rough start to life, I experienced some pretty traumatic events as a young person,” he says.

“As a teen I made that decision I didn’t want to be defined by my circumstances. I wanted to push myself beyond what people might think is possible.

“Strange as it sounds that rough start to life instilled in me principles of determination and not giving up.”

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For Grant, the ultimate goal is simple.

“Initially I told myself I wanted to walk again, but I’ve come to realise we glorify walking. Spinal cord injuries cause diverse complications like neuropathic pain and a lack of sensation. I would much prefer to have sensation than walk. When I hug my wife and kids, I want to be able to feel them,” he says.

“I want to be an active, engaged part of my family. I want to get back to doing what I love – all the recreational things we did before the accident. I’m still figuring out what that looks like in this new reality.

“And one day perhaps I will walk my kids down the aisle. It might be the longest walk down the aisle ever, but I’m sure people will be patient.”

Family in Kiama

Grant with his wife Kate and three kids Zoe, Izzy and Jake.

To get there, Grant says he’ll take it one day at a time.

“I can have some really bad days when I don’t want to get out of bed, and I don’t want to take two hours to get ready, get in the car and drive to work. But I know firsthand that even in my predicament, you can experience joy through life.

“I know everyone experiences adversity to one degree or another. But through my community and the people in my life who rallied around me, their response to my accident and the many ways they have blessed me and my family, I know it’s not the end of my story. Hence the title I gave my film – it’s about the community in which we live. If I didn’t have that support, I don’t know if I would have come this far.”

Group of people in front of a beach

The Kiama community that rallied around Grant inspired the title of his film I’m Not Finished Yet.

To get behind Grant’s story you can vote for I’m Not Finished Yet in the Focus On Ability Short Film Awards, open from 16 to 22 August. Should he win, the $5000 cash prize courtesy of Australia Post will help fund his perseverance towards recovery. Voters go in the running to win $50 iTunes vouchers.

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