“I just try to keep positive. I’ve been down the road of always thinking bad, and you don’t get anything. My legs might not work but I’ve still got my brain,” Shem said.
May the fourth, 2015, is the date Shem will never forget. It was a typical sunny day in Surfer’s Paradise. The temperature peaked at 25 degrees and like many others determined to beat the heat, Shem took the ocean.
Shem always lived by the beach, even back home in Rotorua, New Zealand. A strong swimmer by his account. Having only moved to Australia in 2014 in search of a new life, Shem enjoyed being able to walk from his home in Broadbeach to the water every day.
“One day I was out there bodysurfing, and I caught a big wave,” Shem said.
“I guess it just dumped me right on my head, ‘cause I was face down under the water. I thought it was over.”
Shem led quite the colourful life back home in Rotorua.
Whilst the humble and reserved man sitting across from the interviewer did not seem like a rumbustious renegade, Shem explained this was not always the case.
“Life back in Rotorua wasn’t the greatest, I ended up in trouble a lot,” Shem laughed.
Shem explained the remnants of a scribbled home-job tattoo on his hand are a reminder of the life he left behind.
“I moved over here for work. I was going nowhere in Rotorua. So, I came over here for a different life and to get started.”
As locations for fresh starts go, Broadbeach is a perfect place to make a go of it.
Broadbeach is a family hub stretching across two kilometres of seaside waterfront. It attracts up to 50,000 visitors a year for its sun baking, dog walking, swimming, and surfing.
As Shem lay face down, conscious but unable to move, he thought his new life here in Australia was coming to a close.
Thankfully, this wasn’t Shem’s time. In the aftermath of the destructive wave, it did not take long for someone to notice something was wrong.
“A surfer saw me not come up and saw me just floating there.
“From there I got pushed onto the beach, got a neck brace on and then the next thing I knew I was in the hospital.
“I was in hospital for like 8 months.”
A simple accident from something many of us have done before changed Shem’s life forever.
“I’m a quadriplegic. I crushed my C5 and C6 vertebrae in my neck.
“I have limited use of my arms, no finger movement, and no movement from my chest below.
“It was quite long ago now. I kind of forget about it, but it was on the fourth of May.
“May the fourth remember you.”
It was a long and road of healing and change for Shem. After his time in hospital, Shem had to find a home that was more suitable for his needs.
“You know suitable for wheelchairs, ramps, and the bathrooms. Just got to be able to push in,” he said.
Shem took his time to adjust and find new hobbies, mainly playing PlayStation and watching UFC.
But eventually Shem decided he wanted more. After seven years, it was time to branch out once more into his life in Australia and find a job.
“Nothing is ever easy,” Shem said.
“But, you know, if you try and you want to succeed and do something in your life, you just gotta think towards what you want to do and make a straight line towards it.”
Shem soon realised that some extra assistance would be needed in order to bring his plan into fruition.
Speaking with his local Centrelink branch, Shem was put in touch with EPIC Assist.
EPIC Assist is a Disability Employment Services (DES) provider that helps people with disability, injuries, health or mental health conditions find and maintain work.
“I found the support from EPIC Assist to be really good. They have helped me think differently and brought me more confidence,” he said.
“Through EPIC I did a course in IT. And I mentioned to EPIC that I liked video editing and creating media and that kind of stuff.
“They found this job for me.”
Shem is now a video editor at Business Greenhouse.
Business Greenhouse is a coaching and training company for small businesses. They specialize in sales, marketing, recruitment, and pretty much everything you can think of to grow a small business.
“I edit client videos, YouTube, and podcasts for Business Greenhouse,” Shem said.
“At first it was work experience for six weeks, three hours a day. But at the end of the six weeks, Wez the boss offered me a job.”
Shem’s employer, Wez had nothing but positive things to say.
“Shem’s a great guy to have around.
“His story of resilience means that he will just be a good person.
“To go through what he went through and then turn up and go OK, I am going to better myself through training and then get a job. He is a winner in terms of his mindset.”
With employment secured, Shem is now preparing to tick his next goal off the list.
“My goal long term is to become an Australian citizen,” he said.
Shem is one of those rare individuals you come across. His resilience is silent yet deep. His determination is unbeatable by force. And his positivity is something to behold.
Wherever Shem goes next, the team at EPIC Assist will be there to support and cheer him along.
If you are looking for a disability employment service that can help you realise your next big goal, contact our friendly team at EPIC Assist today.