|Chris Bond, Wheelchair Rugby Paralympian, OAM
Chris at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio
Chris Bond was the 2021 Montville Australia Day Guest Speaker and many people in the audience were very moved by his words, which I think will stay with many people for a long time. The theme of our event was Resilience and Purpose and Chris spoke to this with passion and decisiveness. Below is Chris’s speech in full.
Resilience (adversity) and Purpose
I have achieved quite a lot in my life as an Australian citizen, given the right to opportunity and a fair go. I have received and given mateship in all my travels, I have had the freedom to engage in all of the diverse communities I have lived in, always learning, growing and appreciating the natural beauty of Australia, from its landscapes to its people which to me is what it means to be Australian.
So far my greatest accomplishments are:
- Becoming a father with my fiancé Bridie
- Being awarded the Order of Australia Medal
- Representing Australia in Wheelchair Rugby for the last ten years
- Winning Australia’s first gold medals at the London and Rio Paralympic Games
- Winning Australia’s first world championship in WC Rugby
- Buying my first home here on the Sunshine Coast
- Serving on the board of CanTeen and Disability Sports Australia
- Being placed on a $1 coin
- Being employed full time with the Australian Sports Foundation
- And surviving cancer, which is a path I could never have imagined for myself 16 years ago.
I grew up in Canberra with my mum, twin brother and little sister. My dad lived in Melbourne after they divorced when I was young. My childhood was full of activity, always playing outside until the street lights turned on, walking or riding to school every day and hours upon hours of imitating my favourite sports stars in the backyard or sometimes in the lounge room when mum wasn’t looking.
Being a twin, my competitive drive had started young and whether it was who could run home the quickest, who could put the most vegemite on our toast or who could get their first girlfriend, I was always trying to win and be the best.
This transcended nicely into the sporting arena at a young age and most likely due to my sheer stubbornness and determination more than any genetic gifts, I was involved in many winning teams and held many records as a school aged athlete.
When I was in year 10 at school, I studied business studies and we had to write down our aspirations in life and I wrote ‘when I grow up, I want to represent Australia in sport’.
I was always glued to the TV when Australia was competing and screaming at the green and gold to run faster in the race, take a wicket, score a try or whatever was needed to win.
Just after I finished school in year 12, I was at my casual job as a kitchenhand at Rydges Hotel in the city when I started to feel dizzy, tired and lost my appetite. I was sent home towards the end of my shift and I started getting bad stabbing pains in my stomach. Being a young man, I thought I was invincible so I just went home to bed and curled up in agony believing the pain would go away.
The next morning everyone in my house had gone to work and I was alone and in a terrible way – I was vomiting, had diarrhea, was experiencing sharp pains in my abdomen and was getting worse.
I didn’t want to be a bother so I kept it to myself until eventually later that afternoon I was rushed to the local doctors and immediately to hospital.
The doctors did some quick observations before rushing around to prep me for surgery and telling me that I needed an operation. They also told me I had a 50% chance to survive it and to say goodbye to my family.
I called my best mate and thanked him for his friendship, I waved goodbye to my seven year old sister and then I was carted away to the operating theatre. While being pulled backwards towards the theatre, I managed to tell mum I would see her on the other side.
I woke up in ICU a few days later with tubes down my throat, hooked up to machines, unable to move and with my body swollen and turning black. I had no idea what had happened to me.
The doctors told me that I had a rare blood cancer called APML Leukemia which is a random genetic mutation of genes and I had also contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection called Necrotizing Fasciitis which, with my lowered immunity, was taking over my body. I had undergone septic shock on the table due to the poisoning of my body and my extremities were shutting down to keep me alive as a last defense. My kidneys had failed and my heart had stopped twice but because I was a young, fit and strong 19 year old from stubborn stock, this had involuntarily saved my life.
There was a long journey ahead that helped shaped the man I am today.
The doctors first needed to fight my infections with antibiotics and litres of bloods. I had managed to pick up almost every superbug in the hospital as my wounds were very exposed and my legs started to decompose without any blood flow or oxygen. After a month in ICU they had saved as much of my body as they could and needed to amputate both my legs below the knee, my left hand and all but one finger on my right hand.
They took skin from my stomach and thigh to graft new skin on my remaining extremities and I was made to heal in hospital for almost a year in a room by myself with constant sickness and low immunity.
Once my skin had healed over, I was healthy enough to begin my chemotherapy on a clinical trial for arsenic and tablets for around three years.
During this time (when I wasn’t feeling too nauseous) the physios were manipulating my new body which had seized up, having been bedridden for so long. I had lost half of my body weight and all of my strength to even feed myself independently. A far cry from the young independent man I felt inside.
Day by day I became just a bit stronger and started to do things like shower myself, feed myself and eventually sit up and even push a wheelchair. With every activity that I was relearning, my competitive drive kicked in and I wanted to master it. I knew that if I sat around feeling sorry for myself my family’s time spent visiting me every day, the hours of painful rehabilitation and efforts of all involved would have been for nothing.
I reached a point where I was able to relearn to walk after months of conditioning my stumps to bear weight. I moved out of the hospital, learnt to drive with hand controls and regained my independence.
I was now at a baseline point to begin my life from but there was still something important missing in my life. In my head I was a fit, strong young 22 year old but my body looked otherwise. I spent a long time gaining my strength to match my self-identity until I started feeling more like me and became much more confident and sociable.
The last piece of the puzzle on my journey back to myself was sport.
I loved playing team sport and grew up playing rugby league with my twin brother on each wing. I had got my body to a stage where I could test it out on a competitive level and was lucky enough to be introduced to wheelchair rugby which I took to immediately after my first time being hit in this physical but very strategic full contact sport.
I worked hard on my skills and fitness and managed to achieve my lifelong dream of representing Australia in sport – albeit in a wheelchair. It was a long and windy road but most of the time when a door closes, a window of opportunity opens.
Now as Vice-Captain of our Australian Steelers WC Rugby team, I am aiming to lead our country to a third consecutive gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics this year and help inspire the next generation of Australians, including my one year old daughter Victoria, to work hard and achieve their dreams.
As an Australian I am grateful for so many things:
- Free healthcare system
- Being treated as an equal, regardless of my disability
- Being able to raise my daughter with the support and freedom to pursue whatever she desires with the bush, hinterland and beach at her doorstep here on the Sunshine Coast
My vision of Australia is for our people to be more active more often, utilising the power of sport to bring people together, to build strong local communities based on mateship and giving people a fair go, enjoying and preserving the natural environment we live in, being humble in our successes and respectful in defeat.
Chris Bond OAM
(Editor: I interviewed Chris after his speech and before he headed off to play tennis on the Montville Tennis courts, and was reminded that life can be difficult, is often difficult and yet if we persevere we can achieve anything. He is often humbled by those whose disabilities he says are worse than his and yet he sees them achieving at high levels. These are his heroes and heroines, those people who do not stand still but yet fight on, challenging themselves constantly, as he indeed did as a 19 year old, in hospital for a year, alone often with his thoughts, fighting against melancholy and looking outwards to where he might go. He said hospitals have a job to do – get you physically better. After that, it is down to you to move yourself forward, strengthening your mind and your body to enable you to continue to live your life. Chris said that in sport, failing is necessary; it is the loss that is studied so that a win can occur next. Put the loss under the microscope, pull it apart, and know where and why it happened, so that you can go out and not let that loss happen again. He has a motto: seize your opportunities and push yourself. He believes that sport is a great way to help yourself. And he brought this back to the community – not only are you helping yourself in terms of fitness and strength and mental strength but you are being involved with people. Sport is not carried out in isolation (except round the world sailing I guess) and you can have a lot of fun with like minded people. And in Montville, we have tennis, soccer, Qi Gong, yoga…..