Jerome's story: wheelchair adventurer

In his 20s, Jerome loved travelling to out-of-the-way places off the tourist trail. Despite an accident that left him with a spinal cord injury, Jerome’s adventurous habits didn’t change.

Jerome and a dog on a motorbike on the coast.

Jerome on his modified Ural motorbike with hand-operated gears and brake.

Jerome grew up in the 1980s and 90s on a two-hectare block at Mt Colah on the northern edge of Sydney.

From an early age, he enjoyed being out and about. As a kid he loved his pushbike and riding it around the bush tracks near his house.

He went on many camping and road trips with his parents all around Australia hunting for fossils. This is where he developed his adventurous spirit. He loved packing the four-wheel drive and heading off on unknown roads. 

When he left school, Jerome studied network engineering at TAFE while working part-time in a car wrecking yard. He enjoyed being around the cars more than his IT course, so became an apprentice mechanic with a car dealership. After finishing his apprenticeship, he moved into a service advisor role with the same company.

In 2008, Jerome headed overseas for three months on his first major adventure. He and a friend rode their dirt bikes through South-East Asia including along 5,000 kilometres of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam.

Back home, Jerome's employer promoted him to run a service department at Castle Hill and a new dealership they were setting up.

Freeway accident

One evening in April 2009, Jerome was riding his motorbike to Brooklyn after work to pick up some seafood. While heading home, the bike ran out of fuel. He hopped over the guardrail to keep out of the way of trucks roaring along the freeway. What Jerome didn't realise was that the slope on the other side of the rail ended in a 20-metre cliff face. He slipped on some gravel and slid over the cliff onto the old road below.

"I think I was there for about an hour lying face down. My phone had flown out of my  pocket, I couldn't move and I was having trouble breathing. I realised I'd probably broken my back as I couldn’t feel my legs. I really thought I was finished."
Jerome

Eventually Jerome was found and airlifted to hospital. He had internal injuries and had broken six vertebrae and numerous other bones. He was in the intensive care unit followed by a period in rehab in Ryde.

"I was told I would never walk again but I vowed I wouldn't let my condition slow me down."

Back on the road

Jerome got into the gym and built up his strength. He got his driver licence back whilst still in rehab, the first person to do that. He got an old Volvo modified and on weekends he could leave rehab and go for a drive. A week after returning home, Jerome and a friend headed up to the Sunshine Coast and Fraser Island in a converted four-wheel drive.

"I felt I needed to challenge myself. We had to nut out all the difficulties that come with using a wheelchair on that sort of trip. I thought that if I can go for a week camping on the world's biggest sand island, the rest would be easy. And it was awesome!"

Work wasn't going well for Jerome. The auto dealership told him his old job was gone and offered him a position in customer service. Jerome felt he'd been demoted. He stayed working there for two years but didn't feel they were being flexible or accommodating.

Happier times

By 2012 Jerome was struggling with neuropathic pain from the accident. Eventually he was made redundant. He then enrolled in a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. He describes the course as tough, but he was suddenly much happier as he was interested in this area.

Another ingredient in Jerome's increased happiness was meeting a young woman called Jess at a party. She was about to fly home to the UK the following day. But the two kept in touch and the long-distance relationship blossomed when Jess returned to Australia later in the year. In 2014, with his Diploma completed, Jerome and Jess set off on the biggest adventure of all.

Together they rebuilt an old Toyota troop carrier and shipped it to the UK. They flew there and spent time with Jess's family before driving and camping through eastern Europe and Central Asia along parts of the Old Silk Road and back through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. They organised it as a fundraiser for Spinal Cord Injuries Australia and set up a blog.

Hospitalised

The trip in the 'troopy' was a great success although Jerome had to be hospitalised a number of times from complications relating to his injuries. In Turkey he needed a bladder operation. They cut short their adventure and flew back to Australia early in the new year.

On their return, Jerome and Jess bought a house on a large bush block at Fountaindale on the Central Coast. Throughout the next year Jerome's health deteriorated, and he needed back, bowel and thyroid operations. He still has some nerve pain and urinary tract infections but his health is much better.

Dream job

Three years ago, Jerome got a  job with PME Auto Conversions in Hornsby who do vehicle modifications for people with disabilities.

"It's my dream job really. I love it. I can mix the work up and move around which is best for my nerve pain. I work on the bench making the components and I also do their marketing and design work and certifications for new vehicles."
Jerome

Jerome and Jess got married in 2019. Their travels are on hold as they're focusing on paying off their mortgage. Jerome has plenty to do at home.

"I love the garden. I mow the lawn on a ride-on and on my day off I've got a gardener who helps me with other stuff. I've even planted some Moreton Bay fig trees to help offset my carbon! And I'm restoring a bunch of old cars and doing lots of cooking."

His advice for others who have a spinal cord injury is: " Go out on a limb—you've just got to throw yourself out there. There's always something else around the corner. It's up to you to have a productive and enjoyable life."