Even before his accident, Elijah Arranz had always been a high achiever. A keen sportsman, the Canberra student had made his mark in basketball and long-distance running. His school results were solid. His performance in regular jiu jitsu competitions was even better. But that all changed on a late spring day in 2015 when the then 14-year-old was involved in a skydiving accident. When a wind gust caused his parachute to collapse 20m off the ground, instructor Antonio Rokov twisted himself under the teenager and took the full force of the impact.
Mr Rokov died from his injuries and Elijah spent almost a year in hospital - first in a coma and then on the slow path to recovery learning to speak, eat and regain movement. Life as he knew it had been shattered. But Elijah’s determination to fight back started from the moment he learned of the injuries he would have to overcome. He had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, a fractured jaw and the base of his skull, scapula, pelvis and ribs as well as a lacerated liver and kidney. "Before the accident I thought I was pretty determined but ever since I think it has gone to another level," Elijah said. "I have learnt that I am a lot more determined than I ever thought I was." Almost six years later, the 19-year-old is a shining light for anybody who has ever grappled with a life-changing experience.
Elijah now wants to represent Australia at the 2028 Paralympics in the half or full marathon. He has also coached basketball for the Ginninderra Rats for the last two seasons, has taken on a mentoring role with Cyclabilities at Evatt primary school and works as a social media co-ordinator and "Happiness Ambassador" for The Rehabilitation Specialists. He is also back on the mats learning the skills of Brazilian ju jitsu at Redback BJJ. Meanwhile, Elijah is also eager to pursue public speaking - having already impressed audiences at a recent Ronald McDonald House 40th anniversary fundraising dinner. Elijah said setting smaller goals will enable him to achieve greater things. "The next goal I want to get under my belt is to be walking independently," he said. "It will take a lot of hard work but I think it is achievable."
His family and friends have backed him all the way - Mum Robin said everybody is inspired by what Elijah has achieved despite the odds. "We are extremely lucky for what was a hideously unlucky situation," she said. "Brain injuries can change personalities. It can lead to dramatic mood swings, insomnia and sometimes violent outbursts. “We haven't experienced any of that with Elijah. He has been loving, and happy and fun through the entire experience. Not once has he asked `Why me?’ nor has he ever had a down day.
"We are so unbelievably proud and believe he can achieve anything he wants."
Juggling a long list of roles with the Latrobe Basketball Association is all in the name of the game for Nicole Thompson. The mother of two began volunteering in 2012 when her eldest daughter Kaylee started playing for the Demons and she hasn’t looked back since. Playing an integral part in the Dees’ success, Nicole has been awarded the Muir Family Merit Award and the Trixie Webb Memorial Award- the two highest honours at the club.
Those who know Nicole say she can handle anything that’s thrown her way- she has served on the Latrobe Basketball Association Board since 2013 and was later appointed the Canteen Manager in 2016.
Four years ago Nicole became the club’s Hospitality Director, taking on the responsibility of organising club functions, season launches, fundraisers, easter raffles and much more. Not one to shy away from hard work, she helped to organise a total revamp of the club canteen two years ago.
Latrobe Basketball Association President John Perkins said Nicole is a “tireless worker and terrific organiser,” and is always willing to lend a hand and have a go at anything. “On junior home games, she is at the stadium by 7:30am, even if her youngest daughter Jasmyn doesn’t play until later in the day,” Mr Perkins said. “She uses her spare time, days off and weekends to go buy food, drinks and lollies. Then she will give up her evenings to make all the toasties, savoury toast, soup etc.”
Nicole said becoming a volunteer is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a parent. “I really enjoy seeing all the kids play, it’s a really friendly atmosphere and family oriented,” she said. “It is worth doing, it is rewarding, you’re helping a sporting club and without volunteers we wouldn’t have a club.” Jasmyn still plays the great game and mum Nicole says making her daughter proud is one of her greatest achievements.
“When you’re kid enjoys playing it’s rewarding to help out and support her,” she said. “She’s seeing that I’m volunteering which makes her feel good too.”
To read more about the Latrobe Basketball Association, click here.
There’s no doubt Sodyla Kris plays a huge part in the day to day operations of AFL Cape York but she’s not one to handball responsibility.
Since beginning her career at AFLCY as an AFL Sports Ready Trainee, and later becoming a key fixture at the AFLCY Girls House, her strength in helping other young females achieve their dreams was soon realised.
Sodyla is described as “the ultimate employee, fun and dedicated,” all the while demonstrating a “desire to be better.”
AFL Cape York General Manager Rick Hanlon said when she's not at work, Sodyla is out on the footy field assisting as a volunteer with coaching, acting as registration officer and secretary of the Eagles Junior Football Club. She never misses a training session or weekly match and always lends a helping hand in the canteen during her breaks.
“Sodyla not only volunteers but she is a former AFL Qld U18 Youth Girls representative and a key figure in the local AFL Cairns Women’s AFL competition,” he said. “Sodyla is a true lover of AFL.”
Recognising the importance of education, Sodyla assists more than 50 students boarding at AFLCY Girls House from nearby remote Indigenous communities to ensure they receive education, training and employment opportunities, while continuing her own studies in nearby Cairns.
Sodyla said being able to witness the positive impact AFLCY has on young people who have transitioned from their communities to boarding life and learning how to play Aussie rules has created a close family dynamic at the club.
“I wanted to be a part of the change in these young people’s lives,” she said. “So many of these young people have such raw and natural talent and it amazes me every time I watch them.”
According to Sodyla, what makes the job even more rewarding is seeing younger players grow into confident team mates. “It makes my heart full when they succeed or they achieve something and that’s good for the soul,” she said.
It will take more than a second knee replacement to keep 74 year old Dale Keogh off the mats, according to her fellow members at Sydney’s Budokan Judo Club.
Taking up the sport at the age of ten, Dale has dedicated more than half a century to judo and has a string of accolades under her belt- competing in national and international competitions since 1994 and even claiming the World Judo Masters Championship title ten times.
In 2018, Dale was appointed to the Oceania Judo Union Kata Commission and the National Grades Commission, but it’s the friendships made along the way that’s kept her so heavily involved.
Budokan’s President and Head Senior Coach, Rob Katz said Dale’s “no nonsense” approach to teaching and coaching makes her a successful mentor to all ages, particularly females.
“She has and remains a role model not only to the many female members of the club but to all judoka Australia-wide,” he said.
Decades on, the judo veteran still hits the mats 3-4 times per week, regularly judging at kata competitions and mentoring New South Wales state team athletes.
Dale said the key to a successful career in judo is to have passion for the martial art and “to keep learning.” Dale said her ability to coach up and coming athletes has helped countless others earn their stripes, while she continues to focus on improving her own abilities.
“You’re always going to pursue your goals, and my goal is to make people better than me,” she said. “It’s very humbling.”
To read more about the Budokan Judo Club, click here.
She’s been at the heart and soul of the Katherine Turtles Swimming Club for almost two decades but Pru Ducey is showing no signs of slowing down.
A member of Swimming NT since 2002, Pru has dedicated an enormous amount of time to the sport she loves, all on a voluntary basis.
Described by her colleagues as “an asset to swimming in the regional areas,” Pru drives thousands of kilometres attending events with her club across Alice Springs, Palmerston, Darwin and interstate.
She’s even been shortlisted for Swimming Australia’s nomination for Local Legend of the Year. Swimming NT’s Lee-Ann Reader said Pru is a high achiever with many top swimmers graduating under her guidance.
“Pru gives up her time coaching, delivering school carnivals, and implementing indigenous programs and has been doing so for nearly 20 years,” Mrs Reader said.
“Pru is a true mentor, not just for swimmers but the wider community. Her warm personality and generosity makes her a hero in the community and her dedication has been well documented with her work in remote communities in sport.”
It’s not just her coaching ability that has fellow swimmers in awe, Pru is described as very patient, a meticulous planner and a coach that follows through with her athletes, proving she’s a true ambassador for the sport.
He’s a 200-gamer with a passion for the sport but ask Sam Fogg what’s kept him returning season after season and he’ll tell you it’s not just for cricket.
The Devonport Orions’ veteran is also the coach of the emerging women’s squad and he’s even rolled up his sleeves to paint the clubrooms more than once.
“I try to show people that being a club person isn’t just about playing the game,” Sam said. “Part of it is looking after the club, being part of a sporting community and a place where the kids can come for a hit. It’s all of that and more.”
Pundits have lauded Sam for his commitment to the new female format saying it has opened doors for local participation - including for wife, Leah.
“It’s a new concept for our club but it’s been great to be able to offer guidance based around my knowledge of the game,” he said.
Leah and their six-year-old twins Cooper and Zoe watched on recently when the 38-year-old notched up his 200th milestone at a showdown against Riverside in the Greater Northern Cup clash.
Vice-president Stephen Lee said Sam was a club all-rounder in every respect.
“Sam is the model of what we would require as the ultimate clubman and player,” Mr Lee said. And while he has a few doubts about his ongoing fitness these days, Sam is determined to play on while he can.
“It's been a struggle to get where I am but I’ll just keep playing until I can't play anymore.”
To read more about the Devonport Orions Cricket Club, click here.
LYN Brown has been a key fixture at the Penguin Football Club kiosk since her sons first pulled on the boots. What started as a bit of volunteer work on a weekend has evolved into a role much cherished by players, staff and fans. She will tell you it’s about serving up the best sav’s, chips and hot soup on those cold winter mornings. But club officials credit Mrs Brown with so much more. “Lyn's loyalty to the club has been unbelievable,” club president Brian Lane said. “She has been an exemplary leader of the canteen for many years. Her calming demeanor keeps all of our volunteers who work in the canteen in a happy state. "She is working full time as a teacher but is always the first to put her hand up to assist with any extra catering the club takes on. Lyn is an example of why a club would not be able to function without volunteers.” The 62-year-old primary school teacher credits the support of just as many volunteers around her - even though sometimes they could do with a few more. Some weekends when it’s busy you don’t get a chance to duck off and watch the boys play,” Mrs Brown said. She said the club had proved to be a linchpin for the family. Two of her three sons Jacob, 27 and Julian, 21 are regulars in the senior squad. Husband Colin also volunteers his time marking the ground between matches. “It has just always been a part of our lives,” she said. “The boys started playing in the mini league and I started off helping a friend in the canteen. “It just snowballed and now we have a dedicated crew who volunteer their time. It offers us friendships and purpose and I think that can be so important especially during difficult times.” But Mrs Brown isn’t the only one who says the club is teetering on the edge of something pretty special. “We have lost a couple of our last grand final appearances but we have a new coach who has really instilled some self belief in the players. That’s important and I think it’s going to pay off.”
Long-distance running isn’t just a hobby for Somerset man Shane James - he has to run most days to manage the symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome.
Mr James was diagnosed with SPS in 2007, which causes extreme pain, muscle spasms and anxiety.
The 52-year-old refuses to let the debilitating neurological condition slow him down, running 880 kilometres across Tasmania to raise awareness for the Stiff Person Syndrome Research Foundation.
“It’s affected me in every way you could possibly imagine, and adjusting back into society, getting back into work has been tough,” Mr James said. Since his diagnosis, Mr James has run the New York Marathon and placed a podium finish in the 2012 Boston Marathon mobility impaired section.
Determined to help find a cure, Shane is going the distance and will soon tackle the route between Somerset to Eddystone Point for the final leg of his journey.
Running has helped Mr James keep pace with his condition, in turn keeping his muscle spasms at bay. “It gave me the incentive and motivation to do it, to raise some awareness and goals.
“If it can give someone else with the condition some hope, it’s worth it.”
here.Find out more about The Stiff Person Syndrome Research Foundation
The documentary, Run to Live, showcasing Mr James' remarkable journey can be found here.