In 2004, at just 23 years of age, Ben Houlison lost the use of his legs and became a paraplegic after a mining accident.
Thankfully, his infectious humour and positive outlook on life survived intact because soon after his accident Ben surprised family, friends and even himself when he launched into a demanding competitive rowing career.
Despite numerous difficulties and a cloying dread of early morning training, Ben persevered to become a NSW State Champion in 2006.
“I got hooked on the freedom I felt on the water,” Ben said. “And of not being on wheels.”
Ben now boasts an Australian Rowing Championship and a World Rowing Championship bronze medal on his list of achievements – not to mention a recent marriage to long-time girlfriend and stalwart supporter, Jemma.
“Getting married to Jemma was the best day of my life.”
Now 34, Ben has grown weary of sore muscles and dawn starts.
He prefers spending time sharing his triumphs, trials and tribulations on the WorkCover Paralympian speakers’ circuit as well as managing a successful work health and safety consultancy business.
“Once you experience a workplace accident, you never want someone to go through what my family had to,” he said.
Ben is making it his purpose to caution others against a similar fate in the workplace, using his experience of serious injury to stimulate change in workplace behaviour.
The speakers’ program reaches thousands of workers each year and, during 2014, the Paralympians visited more than 175 businesses across metropolitan and regional NSW.
For more than a decade WorkCover has been in partnership with the Australian Paralympic Committee, providing free workplace visits for eligible NSW businesses.
The WorkCover Paralympic Speakers Program provides personal support and motivation for those returning to work and is aimed at raising awareness of workplace safety on a face to face level.
Ben is one of nine accomplished Paralympians who are dedicated to reducing the risk of injury at work.
His remarkable success as an athlete demonstrates how it is not only possible to return to work and life after a catastrophic injury, but to come back stronger and more determined.
Today, while his single scull collects dust in the back shed, Ben savours a laid-back country life on his Lithgow farm, complete with Angus cows, ewes and border collies.
“I now live and breathe farming – on wheels,” Ben says with a laugh.