The bleachers in the Charlton Stadium quickly filled, to listen to Beau Vernon address the crowd on Tuesday evening.
Beau was a guest of Charlton Neighbourhood House, as part of their Mental Health Week activities. President Kaylene Cossar welcomed everyone to the event, noting that it would not have been possible to have a speaker of the calibre of Beau, without funding from Look over the Farm Gate and Charlton College. She highlighted that although Beau’s life changing injury had occurred playing sport, it could have just as easily been a car accident, or workplace injury and she hoped that his message would resonate with everyone. Beau’s courage, strength and believe when faced with adversity is the reason the committee and the Youth Group chose to have him share his story.
Beau commenced his address to the crowd “It’s not a poor me story, everyone has their own challenges and I am no worse off. Tonight, I want to give you an insight into my journey whilst passing on key messages around having a positive mindset, dealing with adversity and challenges, removing limitations, and being the best people, we can be.
"We talk about nutrition for our health, we talk about exercise for our health. In this day and age, the biggest issue we are facing with our health is mental health. I want to help people wire or rewire their brains so that they can prosper and live the best life they can, no matter the situation”.
Beau cited a staggering statistic that our brains have 20-50 thousand thoughts a day and that 80% are negative. He explained the importance of flipping that process and re-training the brain to be positive, whilst acknowledging that stress through things such as finance, droughts and studies can impact on our emotions, it is important we acknowledge them and then concentrate on things we have in our lives we should be grateful for. Beau explained at the end of each day he takes a few moments to reflect on 3 things that he is grateful for and quite often they may be little things, like the beautiful weather, or that someone offered to assist.
Beau dislocated and broke vertebrae’s c5-c7 from a hip and shoulder bump, whilst playing footy. He explained the process of using part of his hip bone to fuse his neck together; of the five weeks in hospital; and the subsequent 7 months in rehabilitation. He was determined to go home independently, a feat that the rehab centre had not seen happen before, as he wanted ‘to live life to the best of my ability, as this was the only way I could repay all the people who had helped me’.
Beau explained his injury “the further up the neck you hurt the less movement you have. With my level of injury, I have movement in my neck, shoulders, upper back muscles and biceps. I have half my wrist that works, some pec muscles and despite having movement in my arms, I am still a quadriplegic, as there are different levels. My fingers don’t move at all, I have no feeling below my chest, I can’t feel my skin, or pain and I can’t regulate my temperature”.
Beau then entertained the crowd with stories, of gratitude of not feeling pain when he had an accident at a train station; of screaming every time a nursing student injected into his numb stomach; of making his mum scratch his ‘itchy feet’ that had no sensation, along with many other stories, resulting in peals of laughter throughout the stadium. Beau realised very quickly he and his family needed humour to get through the bad situation, and he suggested that we all look at life this way.
He reminded everyone ‘that as bad as it gets you will get through it’ and ‘if you don’t face challenges and adversity, it won’t change your perspective on life. Adversity will make you stronger, more resilient and more positive’. He explained that after the accident he kept reflecting on a guest speaker he had in school who drew a small circle inside a larger circle, with the smaller circle being your comfort zone. How easy it is to stay in there, but how much your world and zone expands when you spend more time outside it.
Beau showed footage of him playing golf in a specially designed wheelchair that stands him upright to swing. Of a surfboard that is controlled by a watch on his arm, that has allowed him to return to his love of surfing. His kayak that allows him to fish for squid and whiting with his brother and of his revised dart throwing technique which is good enough to beat his brother the drive to perform at his best was a theme throughout the evening. He played the final minute of the grand final when he coached Leongatha to a one-point victory, not to highlight his success, but to show footage of the football community rushing to the players demonstrating that success is bigger than yours alone.
Beau Vernon is many things. He is a son, brother, husband, father, coach, ambassador, university graduate, work colleague, team mate, but most importantly Beau Vernon is a role model and a changer of lives. There was not a single person in the room who did not take a moment to reflect on the way that they could retrain their brain to be more positive, or how they could control their mental health issues, or how lucky and grateful they should be for the lives that they have. Those in the room felt their lives were enriched for listening to this incredible young man.