For Quentin, nothing could beat the feeling of walking up a hill, and setting off in a paraglider.
But all it took was one ‘benign mistake’ for that to change irrevocably.
”It was quite unusual, there wasn’t a scratch on me, I had a protective harness, so I didn’t have a head injury or any of that stuff - it was just the sheer impact of the crash that broke my back.Quentin SmithThe Great All-Rounder
Quentin finds it interesting to look back on the injury that left him an L1 paraplegic.
“Some people can get caught up in blaming others for their injuries, for example if they were hit by a drunk driver, they can have a lot of anger. This was different in that I made a small mistake on the day but it had big consequences. There was no one else to blame.”
Quentin’s strength and perseverance really came through during his rehabilitation. His philosophy was to just get on with life. More than anything he was itching to get back outdoors and be physical again.
“I think the week I got home from hospital we were already in the swimming pool with a kayak.”
His dedication to keeping active was a big factor in keeping him positive about life, but three years post injury the initial enthusiasm died off and he was finally hit by the emotional weight of his accident.
His new reality began to sink in after he experienced adaptive paragliding. He started out with tandem flights until he was able to fly solo in a special buggy. But he discovered this new way of paragliding had none of the freedom he previously associated with and loved about the sport – he was now heavily reliant on other people to launch him and help him pack up upon landing.
This caused a drastic change in the way Quentin saw life – and for a time he thought he was slipping into depression. In fact, it was a deep rooted anxiety about the uncertainty of his future that was affecting his mood. His new life with a spinal cord injury left him unsure of his future.
Quentin took this opportunity to seek professional help. He underwent assessments with a psychological nurse who helped him to understand his ups and downs and that made all the difference.
During rehab and beyond Quentin has been lucky to have his partner Kate by his side every step of the way. The couple now has a nine-year-old daughter after undergoing IVF treatment.
Fatherhood has been another challenge for Quentin in that he never wanted his daughter to miss out on doing things just because her father was in a wheelchair. He had been a skier his whole life, and was thrilled to discover adaptive skiing in the second year of his injury, where he found the accessibility of the sport post injury very freeing. The best part though was being involved in teaching his daughter to ski.
Quentin was also a keen sight yachtsman before his injury. A good friend helped him get back into sailing and now he has his own boat which he can use with almost no adaption.
Not long ago Quentin marked his 40th birthday by helicoptering into a remote area of the South Island with a group of 10 others then and rafted out for several days, living it rough and wild.
Prior to the trip, he found himself gripped with fear, as he mulled over all of the things that had the potential to go wrong. But once he was out in nature it all just disappeared, and Quentin made peace with the fact he just had to deal with what was in front of him.
It didn’t take Quentin long to realise that the sorts of equipment needed for adaptive living was relatively limited in New Zealand, so along with fellow paraplegic Jake, they set up a company called Wheel World products, importing sit skis, hand cycles and motorised equipment to sell to New Zealanders.
Lately however Quentin has found himself making waves in politics as he began championing to improve accessibility and also environmental issues by being active in local government for the Queenstown Lakes district.
“We’ve been really fortunate to get support from the council to develop a new disability policy and cast a much more critical eye over all the projects that council do in terms of accessibility.”
The most pleasing thing about this role is actually seeing results, as well as a shift in attitudes.
“We’re working with Department of Conservation on some policy stuff as well around accessibility to their national parks as well.”
A decade later, Quentin tries not to make any comparisons between what may or may not have been, the life he has now is his new reality.
”I've got no idea where I'd be if I didn't have my accident, I know that. This is a transfer of energy, a transfer of thought and focus. You're still the same person you were before. But just with a different perspective.Quentin SmithThe Great All-Rounder
Quentin’s two main pieces of advice to other people living with SCI is to encourage them to understand their own psychology and understand what affects their mood. He also recommends for people to be involved in their community as much as possible.
“I am a strong believer in an inclusive approach to disability.”
His future plans include continuing his political career and seeking re-election in the next cycle. Most of all though he’s focused on being the best dad he can. Paraplegia isn’t going to stop that one bit.
Good one ya Quentin, thanks for leading the way for so many of us down here in New Zealand.
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