Battling adversity and coming out on top
Three people who experienced real adversity share how overcoming it has shaped their lives.
Capturing the attention of more than 120 year 10 students is not an easy task.
Unless you are Ian Chill, Erin Petersen or Glen Martin.
The trio visited Gordonvale State High School recently for an Overcoming Adversity forum – a subject the Year 10 students have been studying for the past term.
Teacher Patrice Honnef says each speaker had overcome significant adversities of their own in a bid to get through the most challenging times in their lives.
Patrice says students were enthralled by the experiences of the trio, from adjusting to life as a paraplegic to battling a cancerous tumour to striving for success against all odds.
“Hearing other peoples’ adversities allows us all to empathise with others and have the courage to move forward,” Patrice says.
And the greatest measure of the students’ interest in these stories?
“The last group of students stayed 20 minutes into their lunchbreak to listen to the speakers.”
Ian Chill, Gordonvale
Casting his mind back to the life he had eight years ago, Ian Chill’s story is not only heart-wrenching but it puts every challenging moment into perspective.
The father of three was about to become a commissioned officer in the navy but his deployment to the Solomon Islands changed all of that.
While trekking in the dense jungle, the former warrant officer fell 10 metres into a cave, fracturing his skull, breaking his spine and leading to life in a wheelchair.
Lying in the dark cave, his lungs filled with fluid, Ian was facing death as the hours crept by waiting for a rescue helicopter to winch him to safety.
“I don’t know how I fell but I remember falling and bouncing off three ledges on the way down,” he told Gordonvale students. “I was in screaming pain … I was thinking about my family the whole time I was down there.”
Nine hours later, Ian was finally lifted from the cave with the help of fellow navy officers and the New Zealand Air Force.
His injuries cost him the use of his legs and saw him spend months in a Brisbane spinal unit and working his way through rehabilitation. Overcoming depression and rallying any morsel of hope, Ian now visits schools across the region talking about how to prevent spinal injuries.
He told students to grasp on to hope during the hard times and says being a paraplegic has not stopped him living a
full life. Ian has tried tandem skydiving, bungee jumping in his wheelchair and completed the Coral Coast Triathlon.
“Why should I let this stop me having fun?” he says. “You’ve just got to get on with it.”
Erin Petersen, Redlynch
At the tender age of eight, Erin Petersen’s larger-than-life personality and infectious laugh were a hit with Gordonvale State High students.
The cheeky youngster was accompanied to the school by her mother Kate who told of Erin’s battle with a cancerous tumour. What started as a pain in her stomach was a rockmelon-sized tumour in her pelvis and a 40 per cent survival rate for the Redlynch battler.
But after 14 months of gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment in Brisbane, Erin is now tumour-free and
“I chose to do everything possible to save the life of my daughter,” Kate says.
The mother says she could not accept the possibility of her daughter’s death. Dealing with the emotions around potentially losing one of the most precious people in her life was a constant challenge.
Kate believes keeping positive and having a “good attitude” helped her daughter’s recovery.
“Most of the journey was fun because you can’t let yourself be burdened by it,” she says.
Erin says she made friends while staying in hospital for treatment and will be travelling to the capital city every three months to have her progress monitored.
Glen Martin, Cairns
After growing up in a caravan park but promising himself to keep moving ahead in life, Glen Martin is now closing the gap in youth inequality.
“I grew up in a caravan park my whole life until I was 19,” he says. “We couldn’t afford a lot and at that period of my life I thought it was so embarrassing and humiliating.”
The former student returned to Gordonvale State High telling students to grab every opportunity with both hands and not let challenges stop them.
“It’s about being real, about coming up against hurdles and how you attack it,” he says. “You need to keep taking steps forward. I have taken every opportunity as a young Indigenous kid being born in a caravan park and living there until I was 19…”
The 30 year old said his mother and father moved from the Torres Strait to Cairns in the 1980s. His father was injured in an unsafe work environment and could only support his family through a pension.
“As a family we struggled because Dad was not working and he was trying to rehabilitate himself and fight for his life.
“Mum and Dad put their own life and own achievements second.
“We did things really tough … It was hard living. I was jumping in and out of industrial bins to collect cans for money (to buy equipment) for sport.”
In Year 10, the teenager got the break of his lifetime with a sporting scholarship to Nudgee College in Brisbane.
It was the start of his cricket career (he’s a respected all-rounder with the Cairns Rovers) and led to a university acceptance in criminology.
Glen now works as a youth development officer with Cairns Regional Council.
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Overcoming adversity: Glen Martin (second from left), Erin Petersen (fourth from left) and Ian Chill (front right) spoke to Gordonvale State High School students.