Jarrod's story: Always looking forward

Jarrod is a high-spirited young man with big goals.

Jarrod in a garden

Jarrod grew up on a small farm outside Mudgee, the youngest of three children. His mother, Carolyn, was from a long line of wool farmers and his dad, Michael was from the city.

His parents started a print and advertising business in town, briefly added a dive shop, and then eight years ago they set up Mudgee Lamb which delivers vacuum-sealed bulk meat packs direct to the public from Port Macquarie down to Canberra. Jarrod helped out as the farm's tractor driver and did a lot of the markets.

Worst moment of my life

Jarrod is from a close Christian family and all three kids went to St Matthews Catholic School in town. He was a happy-go-lucky teenager with lots of friends and did a lot of partying. He loved playing rugby due to the great community; his rugby mates are still his closest friends.

One Saturday in July 2018, Jarrod was heading off early to play rugby in Orange. He was in his first car—an old dual-cab Hilux that he got for his 16th birthday and loved.

"I was late, like I often am, and I still don't know exactly what happened. There might have been a roo on the road or I just took the corner too fast, but I spun off and flipped straight into a tree.

"I don't remember anything about the accident itself. When I came to for a few minutes I was still in the car with my head out the window and a neighbour was holding my hand and trying to calm me. I think that was the worst time of my life.

"Before I lost consciousness again I remember thinking 'I’ve crashed my car! My parents are going to kill me!' And then I realised I couldn’t feel my legs."

Jarrod was airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital where he stayed for six weeks. He'd broken three ribs, three vertebrae and severed his spinal cord at T7.

Emotionally prepared

Jarrod knew that he wasn't going to walk again. He got over the shock of that quite quickly—faster than his family who really had trouble adjusting, and especially his mum who was with him every day during the recovery.

“I think I was a lot more emotionally set up than others who have this kind of accident because I actually knew people in wheelchairs, people I looked up to and who I knew had good lives.”

"I've got a friend called Ellie I've grown up with who has spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair her whole life. I've seen her struggles and I've seen her get over them.

"And through the family business I knew a guy called Grant Mizens. He had his accident when he was 16 and went on to do incredible things like be a gold medal Paralympian. I've never looked at Grant and seen a man in a wheelchair; I've always seen an Olympian. And he became a great mentor to me."

Peer support

Recovery in Royal Rehab at Ryde was tough for Jarrod. The thing that made it easier was the peer support team, Dan, Jess, Lee and Emily, the other 'wheelies'—people with a lived experience of spinal cord injury, people who could teach him about the real world.

"I found that talking to others, getting into their mind rather than always being in my own meant I forgot about myself for a while."

Jarrod returned home in late October 2018 which he describes as being thrown back into the real world. On the first night home he went to a party and saw a lot of friends he hadn't seen for a long time. On the second day he surprised his mum by insisting on returning to school. Just half days at first, then full days.

Although he'd missed half of Year 11, Jarrod decided he wanted to complete Year 12. He had to drop some subjects and drop down a level in others. And at that stage he was thinking more of taking a gap year after school rather than going to uni.

He found out he could get an early entry offer into uni. He had good reviews from teachers and got an offer to do a Bachelor of Business at the University of Wollongong.

A new passion

On graduating from high school, Jarrod was given an award, voted by his peers, as the student who best demonstrated optimism, compassion and benevolence during their HSC year.

By the time he had finished high school Jarrod had a new passion. He had played basketball at school before his accident, but it was in rehab where the seed of wheelchair basketball was planted.

He started going in a bit early when he went back to school in 2019 because he could use the basketball court. By the end of the year he was training intensely, getting up at 5am three mornings a week to drive to school and train till 8:30am.

"Wollongong was a great place to come to. It's a good base for basketball and the Wollongong Rollerhawks are the best team in the national wheelchair league. I got some scholarships to help with accommodation and the building I'm living in is accessible for wheelchairs. I've got some mates here from home and I'm enjoying the courses."

Playing with the best

Jarrod wants to play basketball for Australia. He is currently on a low rung in the Australian Under-23 team and getting a lot of experience with the Rollerhawks, learning a lot and playing with some of the best in the country.

When he finishes his course in Wollongong he has set a goal of a uni scholarship in the US, possibly the University of Illinois, which is where Grant went, on a basketball scholarship. After that he'd like to move to Europe and play basketball professionally.

"I'd love to make that happen.

"To be honest, I don't look back at what might have been, what I might have done if I hadn't had the accident. I've learnt things and done things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'm just looking forward," says Jarrod.