Ausnew Home Care | Wheelchair sports helped pull Wendy out of a 'deep, dark hole'. But participating isn't always an easy process

Wheelchair sports helped pull Wendy out of a 'deep, dark hole'. But participating isn't always an easy process

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After 100 surgeries "cutting off bits" of her leg at a time, Wendy Passfield was on so many painkillers she couldn't get out of bed or string a sentence together.

While in hospital for a Caesarean section operation 17 years ago, she said healthcare workers tried to move her and "dropped" her, breaking her ankle.

The accident led to an antibiotic-resistant infection taking hold, requiring years of surgeries that would ultimately result in the Logan mother-of-two losing both of her legs.

Two people standing either side of Wendy Passfield, all three are smiling.
Wendy Passfield went through 100 surgeries before having both legs removed.(Supplied)

Ms Passfield, who now uses a wheelchair, said she became reliant on "astronomical doses" of morphine to numb her pain, and knew something had to change.

"I was taking so many painkillers I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't put a sentence together, I couldn't do anything," she said.

'I needed to find a whole new Wendy'

Ms Passfield was determined to regain the love of sport she's had her entire life — but when she was well enough to find a wheelchair sport, she realised "there was nothing out there".

It led her to join a small exercise group for people with a disability, where she came across wheelchair basketball. 

Wendy Passfield holding a basketball on an indoor court.
Ms Passfield found her "tribe" in wheelchair basketball.(Supplied)

Ms Passfield was a netball fan, but wanted to try a new sport.

"I didn't want to get back into something I knew, because I didn't know myself anymore. I needed to find a whole new Wendy," she said.

In addition to regular social games, Ms Passfield now represents Queensland in the national wheelchair basketball league.

She said turning to exercise helped her escape the pain.

"Now I don't take anything, if it gets bad, I'll do a work-out or I'll shoot hoops for an hour," the Para-athlete said.

A wheelchair basketball team wearing matching uniforms on an indoor court.
Ms Passfield (third from left) said NDIS funding can't be accessed until an individual has already committed 12 months to playing the sport.(Supplied)

Limited equipment discouraging players

Despite her sporting commitments and work with charity Sporting Wheelies, Ms Passfield said she struggled to play without her own customised sports wheelchair — having to borrow somebody else's old one for games — and said the process for applying for funds was long and drawn-out.

"You've got to be playing for a year or so before the NDIS will provide you with one," she said.

Wendy shooting a goal on an indoor basketball court.
Ms Passfield competes in a sports wheelchair she's borrowing from somebody else.(Supplied)

Ms Passfield said she also spends $100 on travel every time she plays in Brisbane or the Gold Coast to help move the borrowed sports wheelchair.

In a cost-of-living crisis, it means cutting back in other areas.

"I've had to go without some support work hours to be able to make up the money," she said.

Colleague and head of Sporting Wheelies Dane Cross said there's a misconception that the NDIS will fund "everything for everyone with a disability".

"It's very difficult to justify and have funding given to an individual for a piece of sporting equipment," he said.

A family portrait shows a mum and dad with their two children.
Dane Cross (left) said there is still a long way to go to ensure sport in Queensland is inclusive for people of all abilities.(Supplied)

Ms Passfield said it demoralised the self-image of young children and plus-sized athletes who can't find a chair to fit. 

She said she probably would have given up if she wasn't able to borrow a suitable wheelchair.

Early investment needed

Mr Cross said he often heard how playing sport changed the lives of participants like Ms Passfield.

A woman with a man in a wheelchair in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Mr Cross said many people face cost and accessibility barriers when trying to participate in sport.(Supplied)

"They can get into this deep, dark hole of depression, inactivity, and isolation — whereas sport welcomes people back into the community," he said.

"[But] accessing playing spaces, change rooms, even to get in the front door of some of these sporting facilities is difficult for someone with a mobility impairment.

"A lot of people often can find it easier to just choose to stay at home and choose to be inactive because of those barriers."

The duo believe early investment — from individuals, corporations, and all levels of government — on a grassroots level can help, with positive impacts to flow on to the public health system in the long run.

Ms Passfield estimates she would've spent tens times more on doctors and medication than a sports wheelchair would've cost.

Three women sitting in wheelchairs side-by-side.
Ms Passfield (middle) said the social benefits to physical activity are "massive".(Supplied)

"If we can be more active in the first place, then we might not get to those points that need such medical intervention," she said.

"Now I'm kicking myself, thinking 'how much less damage would I have done if I got into sport sooner?'"

Mr Cross said people with disability were nine times more likely to have chronic disease as a result of inactivity.

The power of sport

Ms Passfield counts herself "luckier than most" because she can spend a lot of time on the court through her job.

A group of people wearing green and red Christmas outfits on an indoor basketball court.
Ms Passfield (third from left) has tried a range of sports, but found a particular interest in wheelchair basketball.(Supplied)

She said her mental and physical health had improved greatly because of the sport, boosting self-confidence through her social connections.

"Every time I thought I could try something it'd be like 'you've got no legs you fool', but meeting other people that were going through the same thing [helped]," Ms Passfield said.

"I've got my friends from before, and I love them to bits, but then I've got my tribe — they're two different worlds," she said.

Wendy playing wheelchair basketball on an indoor court.
Ms Passfield said an active lifestyle often has the potential to ease the need for medical intervention.(Supplied)
Source: ABC

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