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out of touch: covid stories from wa

Brad Ness

When Brad Ness and his team couldn’t train together anymore at the Western Australian Institute of Sport, they got creative. Brad brings us on the journey of how COVID-19 brought this team closer together.

Out of Touch documents the unique experiences of Western Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020.

When Brad Ness and his team couldn’t train together anymore at the Western Australian Institute of Sport, they got creative. Rather than focus on what they couldn’t do or didn’t have, Brad gave his team the autonomy to define their own training days and presented an opportunity to grow as athletes: he asked each person how he could support them to be the best athlete. He needed them to put the Tokyo Games in the back of their minds, for now. A caring and compassionate coach, Brad brings us on the journey of how COVID-19 brought this team closer together.

Copyright © 2020 Brad Ness

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories and the State Library of Western Australia by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories. 

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Biography/History: Funded by the State Library of Western Australia. This collection of stories, documents, experiences of the COVID 19 pandemic that hit Australia in early 2020. The COVID 19 pandemic led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Western Australia on the 16th of March.

WA went into lockdown between the months of March to May, with further restrictions continuing for months after. During this time, events were cancelled, schools shut down and parks became overcrowded. Thousands of individuals, businesses, communities and organizations were severely impacted as they were forced to work from home social distance and book emergency flights.

This collection, produced by the Centre for Stories in Northbridge, Western Australia, explores these unprecedented effects and contributes a record of this remarkable time in history. Five-time Paralympian Brad Ness discusses the effects COVID had on the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Brad Ness: I wanted to be a professional sportsman. I want to be a footballer. I got to be a professional sportsman. And it was in wheelchair basketball growing up in a wheat and sheep farmer. That was the last thing I thought I’d be doing for; for a living.

But I suppose when you look at it, I probably got to a much longer career in sport. From; from playing wheelchair basketball then I would have ever had playing football because the statistics and the percentages I probably would have made it anyway.

So, the weekend of my accident and actually long 37 and a half hours in two days. So, on this particular evening we had actually it was on the back end of a double; double. And so, we took off from Hillarys, went down to Fremantle, punched into the Freo dock to the whole way down.

Christmas cruise. So, you’re sort of jumping between roles and then come back and then I’m the most unpopular person trying to get 199 people out of the pub, back onto a boat to go home.

if you hadn’t back to the island, you understand? Friday night, beers are flying down, no on really wants to go home. So, our bit of, you know, farmland came into play, their cattle prod, trying to get it run on board.

So, I got everyone on board that night and then my job is then to switch back into almost being the pot right for the boat. So, I tell the skipper to go into gear. The boat goes in the gear and all the tension goes a my line.

The forward rows become trackside to make sure the deckhands jump on tight. Those roped off. I tell the skipper to bring the boat back. It just takes the out of gear. So, all that pressure on my line comes back.

I climb through a window; I take the rope of the bollard inside the boat. That’s when the problem started and someone yelling out, Get us a beer or anything like that. Sounds like my next command, which was; was all clear.

So, the skipper thought he was all clear. I’m trying to get the rope off the jetty. I couldn’t because the boat’s sort of moving away. Yeah, I’ve got about four meters of line that’s paying out. Throws up all of that so big from trying to yell from the window and then from the stairwell.

When I pivoted, I put my foot in the rope and it just tore my foot clean off out through the stump of a hole and then a split second. You know, they say your life changes. It’s bizarre. You can change quicker because I actually, you know, sort of sort of I didn’t have the time to get it out.

They tell me you die within about 5 minutes from an accident like mine. The accident happened 11:30 at night. I didn’t get into hospital to about 2:00 o’clock was only in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time.

That’s a debatable question because, you know, when I wake up and I have Saturday night, they amputated back to just below the knee because I lost my foot completely. And instead of when I woke up, I was like, oh, that’s all that happened and I’m still here.

So yeah, forever grateful for the people that were on board that night because yeah, I shouldn’t have probably shouldn’t have got off the rock that night. I was 12 weeks into being 18. So, I suppose the way I looked at it, yeah, I’d lost being able to play football.

I suppose that was the hardest thing. Sometimes you just got to stop and think and you almost breathe and say, okay, this is the; the obstacle in front of me or this is the situation and you sometimes gotta look outside the box and the way I attack life now.

And is it because I had that accident? I’m not sure. But it’s definitely you’ve got to look for the positives. And I’m not saying it’s always going to be that outcome, but I think sometimes we get too pigeonholed or channeled into doing the norm and not looking outside and seeing what other options there are.

Yeah, I think you find people with a disability and majority that are pretty resilient in different phases just because I have to be. Yeah, society’s changing a lot now, which is making it sort of easier I suppose. But yeah, a lot.

A lot of the guys, they’re very resilient in how they go about their daily lives and they’re very structured as well. And I suppose you need to be because you can’t just wake up and jump out of bed and jump into a car and go out.

There’s; there’s a lot of planning to go into; into all of that. So yeah, it’s been refreshing to see some of the things they’ve come up with themselves to, to adapt, to COVID. There was a lot of concern because of some of the disabilities also makes them more susceptible to something like COVID, just with respiratory and paraplegia and stuff like that. So, there was a lot of concern from them that, hey, we don’t want to even go outside of here at the moment.

We’re not going to risk going to a shop. So yeah, it’s been it’s been great seeing the way they’ve helped each other through, through COVID. A big part of me was so upset because they had bought in and they had worked so hard for ten weeks.

Then all of a sudden, bang, they’re in lockdown and they couldn’t train. So that was that was frustrating. And it was frustrating for the athletes. The mindset is now let’s go away and you tell me what you want to work on.

And, and now let’s take this time to. Yeah, and it might not be so much on the court. It might be getting their NBA plans in place so that, you know, for the next year their goals, they can work towards the goals and they can get assistance to do that.

We were very fortunate. Wheelchair basketball was one of the first sports programs back up running post-COVID, maybe the only advantage to being the most isolated city in the world. You know, right or wrong, they’ve shut the borders. And, you know, we can move around.

We can yeah, we can train. Like we were very fortunate we had to go one athlete at a time. So, my coaching day went from, say, 2 hours a day to 7 hours a day, but we got through it.

And then I wanted to get back and get training. So, we got the jump on the rest of Australia by probably a month, maybe more. And now we’re saying back in lockdown, way back training like there’s no problems with full contact with scrimmaging.

We’re able to do what we want to do. The advantages of WA suppose we always sort of, you know, joke about cutting ourselves off from the rest of Australia and stuff. But we’re saying now that, you know, for how long, who knows?

But we can actually sustain ourselves as a, as a region, as a, as a state. So even though the games have been postponed a year, it’s given an opportunity to a couple of our players now who probably they developing they the young guys coming through and they go there as well.

My squad’s mixed, so but we’ve got a couple of athletes there that would have missed Tokyo if it was held in three weeks’ time. But now that it’s in a year’s time, they’re actually got a really, really good opportunity to make that team.

So, they have their goal is not so much Tokyo in August next year, it’s actually being selected in February. So, when we look at it that way, yeah, I’m saying to them, Hey, try now for that. If you make it awesome, we’ll, we’ll deal with that after that.

If you don’t favor, it doesn’t matter how hard you try and afterwards you’ve missed the bite. So let’s not look at this as 12, 13 months out. You know, we’ve got to look at this as we’re now training for this.

And what are we going to do daily to; to achieve that we’re going to focus on today and what you can do, like I said, on and off the court, how can you be a better person to be out to be ready in February when they when they start selecting teams.

Yeah, post-COVID you talk about how things change. One of our guys finishes training at 9am. and he’s sitting there, you know, sweating in his training kit. But he’s got he’s fine and he’s on a is on a Zoom conference for work because I check in at 9:00.

And a big part of dancing is that they all work from home. So, I think what sports kind of look like moving forward is that we’re going to get used to not seeing crowds. If you’re asking me whether Tokyo going on, I’m really skeptical.

Look, I think if there’s any country that can pull that off, it’ll be the Japanese that put in new infrastructure for travel, you know, commuting in and around Tokyo. It was amazing what they’d done. So, if anyone can do it, they can do it.

But it’s going to be tough. And yeah, you, you live in hope and you and you’ve got to keep everyone upbeat and training and stuff for a lot of people. They’re going to have their dream taken away from them.

And then it goes back to what we’re talking about before their self-worth. What is it? you know a lot of people suffer coming out post-games because they put so much into competing for that 10 seconds, 40 seconds, whatever it might be.

And then they have sort of nothing past that. You know, I’d hate to be in someone’s shoes where they’ve dedicated their life or a big part of their life to getting to that event and then it’s taken away from them.

That would be really hard to; to comprehend. I’m evolving as a coach. I’m learning all the time. But the biggest thing is having the patience to work with; with everyone, with; with everything that’s going on, because everyone’s being affected differently with COVID.

Just working through everyone’s, I suppose individual needs as a coach has been for me a little bit challenging just now, having the patience to say, hey, we don’t know when we’re going to be able to train internationally at international level again.

So, we’re just going to keep; keep doing control what’s what we can control. And that’s being here in WA, a lot of it I suppose I hear my sort of, like I say, resilient. I think we’re all born with resilience.

I think it’s everyone’s got it inside of them. Sometimes it just takes an event in someone’s life to I suppose to; to really bring that out and. It’s a powerful thing. And I do believe we’ve all we’ve all got it inside of us.

And it’s just how; how do you tap into it? How do you how do you harness it and use it for, you know, for; for an advantage? I suppose it’s just with my; with my resiliency or with what I see with the athletes every day, it’s is showing people that they’re on their way to be resilient.

It’s just the way they are is they have to be to be able to make, you know, to get through to the end of the day. And that’s where I was at; at the start when I first lost my lost my foot.

It was, you know, let’s just focus on getting through to the end of the day. And sometimes people say you can’t do that. But for me, the police turned up and took my license off me and all of a sudden, I couldn’t drive.

I mean, I grew up on a farm. I’ve been driving all my life. So to lose my license is like, how do I get it back? People look at that as being resilient, you know, I just look at it as life with me, I want to be a sportsman, you know, and I did it through basketball, like, I said before. And is that being resilient? Maybe it’s just following your dreams and I’m working hard to get there.


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