Leap of fate
An inspirational Gisborne wheelchair athlete is hoping the story of how he dealt with a broken back to become a professional bodybuilder will make people think before they jump from waterfalls.
Anytime Fitness gym co-manager and bodybuilder Ephraim Gudgeon has opened up on how he dealt with the devastating consequences of a fateful leap from a waterfall by fronting a new ACC national safety campaign.
The campaign recounts a warm, sunny Waitangi Day in 2017, Ephraim was with his friends and whanau at a secluded lake and waterfall in Tauranga.
They were having fun jumping and diving into the lake when Ephraim and a friend decided to jump from the waterfall.
“I took the jump. I tucked my knees in, but when I hit the water because it was so high, it just felt like floor . . . like hitting the ground. All I could remember was not being able to feel my legs,” Ephraim says in the interview.
He had fractured his T12 vertebrae — just above his hips — and was paralysed.
“Those first few days were hard. I think I cried every night for the first few months. There were a lot of tears.
“I remember thinking that everything has changed now and I'm not going to be able to do the things that I enjoyed doing.”
Since then he has realised he can still do those things.
“I've just got to keep on working to achieve that goal and stay positive.”
It took three months after leaving the spinal unit to get back to work as a personal trainer.
But nothing about his life has changed.
“I believe I still would be doing the same thing I'm doing today had I not had my accident. The only difference is I'm in a wheelchair doing it.”
Three years on, he and wife Arian are co-managers of Gisborne's Anytime Fitness and he recently became New Zealand's first professional wheelchair bodybuilder.
This certified him as a professional athlete and allows him to compete in competitions such as Mr Olympia.
Ephraim plans on making it to the Mr Olympia competition and one day winning it.
He wants to grow the sport of wheelchair bodybuilding in New Zealand and inspire other wheelchair users to take part.
Ephraim's advice to others is to think twice before jumping into any kind of water and to consider the potential consequences.
“There were signs saying ‘no trespassing' and we just ignored them. It didn't really seem like a big deal to me. I thought I'd just jump and it'd be fun.
“When I was up on the waterfall, I didn't think about what could go wrong. I didn't think about the consequences, or how it could affect, not just me but, everyone around me.”
He did not regret jumping off the waterfall but he would not do it again, he said.
“I've learned to appreciate the simple things in life and be cautious of the consequences or the decisions that you make, whether they be small or big.”
ACC injury prevention lead Kirsten Malpas told The Gisborne Herald Ephraim's story would form part of a wider public awareness campaign about its role and services.
“Water safety is one of the topics explored in the campaign that highlights some of the lesser known things we're involved in — from injury prevention to care and recovery.
“We're showing there are two sides to the everyday situations we find ourselves in. There's a moment where things could go well or not so well and our stories are pointing to ACC's role on both sides.
“We're working to keep people injury-free but also to ensure people know about our support when the unexpected happens.
“We know that in water things can change when you least expect it.
“Last year, we helped 36,515 people recover from water-related injuries. That equates to a staggering 100 injuries a day.
“The number of people injured while jumping into water from bridges, waterfalls and other heights has more than doubled over the last five years.”
A total of 194 people were injured jumping into water from a height in 2018, with men accounting for the majority of claims.
She recommended people remember a few tips before jumping into water from height.
Look before jumping and check for depth and obstacles such as hidden rocks or logs; watch out for others in the water below; don't jump at the same time as your mates; alcohol and water don't mix; make sure children are constantly monitored — ideally by having someone in the water.
“Take a moment to stop and think twice about what you're about to do could save your life or your mate's.”
Ephraim told The Herald he was “all good” with what happened three years ago and he hoped his story would help others.
“I want people to be safe but in saying that, don't live a life at home and not do anything. Still have fun if there's safety around.
“The main thing for me is to think twice about things but not to live a life scared of doing something new.
“As long as you can do it safely, do it.”