Ausnew Home Care | Australian teenagers pursuing their Paralympic dreams after choosing to amputate

Australian teenagers pursuing their Paralympic dreams after choosing to amputate

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Adelaide teenager Cameron Jones was living with intense, daily pain in his foot.

Simple tasks like walking around at school were agony, let alone trying to pursue his greatest love – playing football.

On an average day the 17-year-old's pain was constantly at a minimum a "six or seven" out of 10, and on the bad days, it was excruciating.

It was the same for fellow South Australian Cooper Spillane, 14, who just wanted to play football and basketball.

Both boys knew something had to change to give them a chance at a pain-free life.

What they chose to do has now put them both on the path towards representing Australia at the Paralympics.

The life changing decision

A boy sits on a hospital bed and ties his shoelace.  Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Cameron was eager to get back into sport soon after his surgery.(Supplied)

Cameron was born with what he describes as one of the worst cases of clubfoot in Australia — a condition where a foot points downwards and inwards.

"Usually with a club foot, maybe a few surgeries and some physio and it's somewhat normal and you can cope with it," Cameron said.

"But I was pushing my 10th surgery, and it wasn't really getting any better."

In March this year, Cameron once again found himself in hospital with a massive team of doctors talking through his options, including further surgeries, or a foot reconstruction.

But he'd had enough.

"I said, 'let's just get rid of it', and the look on all the doctors faces was just shocked," he said.

"That was a memory I'll never forget, but I was I was really keen to have it off."

He instantly felt relief after the amputation.

"Before and after, there's never been a moment I've looked back," he said.

Talent for para-canoe shines through

Cameron had to adjust to life as an amputee, dealing with phantom pains, using a wheelchair and a prosthesis.

A teenage boy with a leg amputation is on crutches, learning to walk.
Cameron says despite the challenges he faced in recovery, he was motivated by the prospect of playing sport again. (Supplied)

But just two weeks after his surgery, he was itching to get back into sport.

So he attended a Paralympics Australia multi-sport day, designed to give participants a chance to try out various para-sports with support from expert coaches and athletes.

"Me being me loving sports, even if I was in the world's most amount of pain, I would have gone out and given it a whack," Cameron said.

The Paralympics Australia staff asked Cameron to have a go on the para-canoe ergometer, and his natural aptitude was obvious.

Just nine weeks after his amputation, he competed in the Canoe Sprint National Championships, and won a gold and silver medal.

"Both my coaches were telling me, 'you're probably going to come out here and not do too well, but don't let it get you down, because you've only been doing it for six weeks'," Cameron said.

"And I said, 'look, I'd rather go out there and lose 10 times than to not know what the experience is like'."

The experience has made Cameron dedicate everything to the sport, outside of his two part-time jobs, he's constantly on the water or in the gym, striving to get the very best out of himself. 

Pain turns to potential

A wheelchair basketball team smiles and poses for the camera.
Cooper (front) grew up idolising NBA players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but now has dreams of playing at the Paralympics. (Supplied: Instagram)

Cameron also plays wheelchair basketball, alongside his friend Cooper Spillane.

Cooper was born with fibula hemimelia, which means he had a fibula bone missing in his lower left leg.

When he got to the age of 10, the pain started to become unbearable.

He and his family were presented with two options – amputation or a leg lengthening process, and they opted for the latter as a starting point.

"They basically broke the tibia, put a rod on the high side and the low side and you wind the scaffolding out, which separates the tibia, which grows bone and so you generate length from that," dad Matt Spillane explained.

A boy lies in a hospital bed with a brace around his leg.
Cooper underwent a painful leg lengthening process when he was 11.(Supplied: Instagram)

Cooper's leg was able to grow around five centimetres, to nearly draw level with his other leg. But he then suffered knee complications.

"All I can remember was the pain really, the pain was the hardest," Cooper said.

"Having time off school was another big part because obviously I wasn't in the greatest state, [and going] to lots of appointments.

"And it got worse the longer it went for as well because the lengthening process got more painful."

Nearly a year after starting leg lengthening, at the age of 12, Cooper then made his own life changing call.

"I haven't looked back since after choosing to amputate, there's only been pros out of it," he said.

"I've reached sport destinations that I didn't think I would have made if I was able bodied and had my two legs."

Paralympic pathway now a reality

A boy stands and holds a basketball singlet alongside a man in a wheelchair, they smile for the camera.
Cooper has made great strides in wheelchair basketball since starting the sport two years ago.(Supplied: Instagram)

Cooper was initially reluctant to get involved in para-sport – unlike Cameron, he had to be dragged along to a Paralympics Australia multi-sport day.

"Growing up I didn't like the idea of playing basketball in a chair. You see all the NBA players and all the professionals running around and you don't see much in the chairs," Cooper said.

But once he was there, he quickly had a change of heart.

"I couldn't get him out of the stadium, and I've never seen a bigger smile on his face. That was probably eight months after surgery," Matt said.

Now Cooper is part of the Australian men's Under 23 squad, and trains up to five times a week, along with balancing his year nine studies and a part time job.

"I think the best part is playing with a team of people that have been through similar experiences to you and you can all just relate through basketball," he said.

"So we all push each other on the court to be the best we can be.

"I think he's done really well, and it's a credit to him that he showed a lot of resilience through that and learned a lot and has grown a lot too," dad Matt said.

Cameron and Cooper are still at the start of their para-sport journeys, and while they grew up aspiring to play for the Socceroos or Boomers – that's now evolved.

A boy and a man, each with a prosthetic leg, stand and smile for the camera.
Cameron says Paralympic rower Jed Altschwager (right) is one of his role models.(Supplied)

"I did soccer for 10 years before my surgery and I always dreamed about representing Australia in soccer," Cameron said.

"And I was a bit worried that having a leg off might stop my opportunities for sport. But as long as I could pick something else up, then I would have been alright.

"My plans were to just do some sport to get my mind off things, but it's taken such a big jump and it's awesome. I wasn't prepared for it at all, it's surreal."

Cooper has also experienced an unexpected ride.

"The amount of places I've been in a short amount of time, it's just crazy," he said.

"To see where I'm at now and then all the years that I've still got ahead of me, I think that's the main motivation there — really seeing where I could go."


Source: ABC

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