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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Swift move to a new life

Swift move to a new life

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1 Swift move to a new life on Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:51 am



Swift move to a new life

David Sygall, Cardiff
The Age
August 26, 2012

Back on track: ''I'm glad I got into running and things like that,'' Jack Swift says now. ''It's done so much for me.''

THERE is a brilliant irony in Jack Swift's opinion that back in his younger days playing footy, surfing, skiing and partying, life was not as satisfying as it is now.

He was a park footballer, drinking with the boys afterwards, doing labouring work.

They seemed the greatest days of all. Back then, Swift had two legs. This is not to suggest the 27-year-old Victorian is glad all that remains below his right knee is thin air.

But there are two ways you can go after 14 tonnes of heavy machinery crushes the bone and sinew of half your leg to pulp in an instant.


You can sag into perpetual, if entirely understandable, misery. Or you can re-evaluate and embrace a different, maybe even better, future. Neither is easy.

''It takes a long time to accept it, I still probably am,'' says Swift, bulging pectoral muscles and biceps protruding from his Australian Paralympic team training singlet. ''Some days I sit there with my prosthetic leg off, and I just think I can't believe I actually lost my leg.

''Even just talking about it now … I can't tell you just how hard some of those days were for me. I was 21, the time when all your mates are out partying, having the time of their life.''

Swift had started as a plumber's labourer at a water-main construction company. He enjoyed the hands-on work, and decided on an electrician apprenticeship. Two weeks before moving on, Swift was working on a project in Melbourne.

''I walked around the back of the truck, about to hop down into the trench when the driver backed up,'' he says.

''He couldn't see me and accelerated. The next thing I knew I had a 14-tonne excavator on my leg and was just yelling out for the guy to back off. But the damage was already done … It was beyond recognisable. It didn't look like a leg. The bone fragments were just like splinters of wood.''

An ambulance arrived in minutes, but it felt like hours. ''It was a pretty tremendous trauma to go through,'' he says. ''For the first few weeks in hospital I'd wake up and it would be like I had to re-live the whole nightmare again. Mentally, it was just so hard to get through those initial days.''

Doctors took large skin grafts from Swift's left leg to save his right knee, but it delayed by three months the start of his rehabilitation. Around that time, the brother of his girlfriend, Jenna, contacted the Victorian Institute of Sport, to ask if there was someone who could visit Swift in hospital.

''The idea was that I'd just go and say g'day to Jack,'' says Don Elgin, winner of four Paralympics athletics medals and now an Australian team official. ''We chatted a bit and I just wanted to get across the message that life is what you make it.

''It's something you don't want to push onto someone - Jack's life had just been turned upside down. But eventually I could see this light go on in him, like there was a bit of hope there.

''I checked in with him a bit, introduced him to a good friend of mine, who's a great coach. Jack's is one of those stories you look at and say 'What a great outcome from a very ordinary situation'.'' The coach was Tim Matthews, regarded as one of the finest Paralympic athletics coaches around. Eventually Swift told Matthews and Elgin he was ready to be active again. This time, no partying. Just complete focus. They had a prosthetic leg made and Swift started becoming more mobile and as fast as his name suggests.

Next week he races perhaps the best known Paralympian of all, Oscar Pistorius, in his main event, the T44 400 metres for leg amputees, in front of a huge crowd. Swift is realistic about his chances. He's only been running at this level for three years. He will count himself successful if he runs a personal best. Same, too, in the 4 x 100 relay, in which the Australians are ranked fourth.

Swift looks back on his partying days with mixed feelings. Back when he had two legs. Life is much fuller now.

His bond with friends and family is stronger than ever. He's a university student, a qualified gym instructor and fitness trainer. His athletics career has allowed him to travel and develop.

''I was immature back then, but all this made me grow up and realise the important things in life,'' he says. ''It completely changed me. It definitely hasn't been easy getting to the point I'm at today.

''But I'm glad I got into running and things like that. It's done so much for me … mentally getting over the whole trauma.''

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