Brett grew up at Picnic Point in Sydney’s south-west with his mum and a younger brother in what he describes as a pretty normal childhood. He was an active kid and played a lot in the bush and became good at swimming.
At 20 the travel bug got to him and Brett went backpacking through Europe for three months. When he came back he was working at Woolworths in Revesby and the lady across the road at Flight Centre said, "You’re wasted there. Come and work for us.”
Injured on a work holiday
So he did and, in 2006, Flight Centre sent Brett and 30 other staff members on an all-expenses-paid holiday to Cairns. On the second night everyone went for a swim in the pool. Brett dived in off the metre and a half deep boardwalk. Things went in wrong and Brett hit the bottom.
“I’d dived safely into pools a thousand times. But I heard the crunch and knew I’d broken my neck.”
Diagnosis and a lengthy hospital stay
Brett was diagnosed with C6-7 incomplete quadriplegia and spent eight months in Sydney’s Royal North Shore and in Ryde Rehabilitation. His mum and friends brought him baked dinners most nights, and he says he only had about ten hospital dinners in that time.
Brett accepted his injury and his situation and didn’t go down those dark paths of depression. He thought, "That’s happened, what do I do now? What are my expectations?" Brett says he is lucky in having a good network of friends.
Learning how to swim again
In rehab, Brett learnt to swim again doing freestyle with paddles on his hands and a snorkel as it was hard to roll and turn his head. He still swims three times a week and on weekends often attaches his wheelchair to a hand bike to cycle around Centennial Park, Randwick.
Brett had a number of operations to reassign the tendons in his hands to still-active muscles to give him more hand control, laughing that he ‘became the poster boy for tendon surgery.'
Path to recovery
Before the operations he couldn’t close his hands, couldn’t dress himself, couldn’t pick up a knife, fork or even a phone. He can now do everything except do up buttons on a business shirt. He now needs about two hours a morning to help with showering, getting dressed and cleaning.
In 2012 Brett moved into a unit he’d bought in Surry Hills near Oxford Street. In the same year he got a job in a busy government call centre where he manages a team of 14. He still travels a lot and earlier this year he went to the west coast of the USA.
“I can manage most of the travel myself,” he says. “But it’s easier if I travel with friends.”
At 35, Brett feels he’s in a good place.
"I have a great network of friends. I can do most things myself, and even when I can’t, I don't get frustrated. I don’t mind asking someone to help me.”