Guest Stories

Sargood on Collaroy aims to promote social integration, activity and support for people with a spinal cord injury whilst guests enjoy much needed respite with their families. This holistic approach is to make people with a Spinal cord injury happier, healthier, and prepared to tackle the next big thing, be it returning to school, study or work after their injury, or perhaps even starting a family. Whatever the scenario, with the equipment, expert clinical knowledge and the environment to facilitate change, Sargood on Collaroy seeks to provide rapid improvement to the lives of those with a Spinal Cord Injury.

Please see below the stories of some of our guests and the experiences of their stay at Sargood on Collaroy.

Craig Clarke

“I am a C5/6 complete quad, and have been for 31 years. When I first looked at the Sargood brochure my first thought was that it looked like a nice place to stay, and had equipment which would save my wife ‘lugging’ it from interstate (I live in SA).

Once you’ve stayed at Sargood the first time, you’ll realise that Sargood is not just ‘high quality accessible accommodation’. Sargood is therapeutic, but it’s not a rehabilitation hospital; Sargood has professional, friendly staff who understand SCI, but it’s not a specialist clinic; Sargood is situated where you’d expect a 5 star resort to be, but is immersed in a welcoming community. Sargood offers the opportunity to expand your horizon – without worrying about ‘what might go wrong’….

From the time you start the on-line booking process to the time you check-out, you will be questioning if the place is ‘for real’… I have never come across this ‘experience’ in my years living with SCI.

So what makes it so special? I can only think it’s an amalgam of a truly valuable vision, highly competent staff and the innate ability of the ‘complex’ to be whatever the individual needs it to be.

In other words if you need to get ‘out and about’ – you can do it here; if you need quiet head space with your loved one(s) and family – you can get it here; if you just need a break from the ‘hum-drum’ of your daily routine without any drama – you will get it here.

The best advice I can give… try it… you’ll move mountains to go back…”

Craig Clarke | President
The Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of South Australia
Oct 2018

Sam Bloom and Helen Bonynge

“It’s our happy place!… The people at Club Sargood have really become like a second family to me… I don’t know what I’d do without them. It’s so great to be surrounded by people who just know what you’re experiencing.” – Sam Bloom and Helen Bonynge: both avid users of Club Sargood.

It’s clear from talking to Sam Bloom and Helen Bonynge that Club Sargood, located at Sargood on Collaroy – a world-first resort purpose-built for people living with spinal cord injuries (SCI) – is much more than just a gym to its members. It’s a place that not only encourages physical wellness for people living with a SCI, but truly nurtures mental health and growth.

“Club Sargood enables me to do things without asking for help. I can head straight in and start working out. It really lets you feel independent again,” says Helen.
Club Sargood is a gymnasium open to all people with a disability to engage in fitness, social and recreational activities. The club’s state-of-the-art equipment and independent training systems allow gym users the freedom to exercise autonomously, following their own personalised workout plan or simply free-styling as they go.

The Human Underarm Resistance machines boast advanced air pressure technology that lowers joint pressure and makes exercise safe and effective for wheelchair and non-wheelchair users. Exercise physiologists guide gym users to find the best way to maintain and increase physical mobility in tailored one-on-one sessions. Gym members also have access to on-site recreational equipment including beach access equipment and adaptive cycles.

Helen, a Camperdown local, travels to and from the northern beaches twice a week to use the gym, and take full advantage of the wonderful facilities Sargood on Collaroy has to offer.

“I have two gyms in the block of apartments where I live but I can’t use them! The machines aren’t suited to being in a wheelchair, and I’d need help changing the weights – it’s just all too difficult. I’m sure many of the Club Sargood members would say the same which is why it’s so great to find a place you can really get your endorphins going and feel happy.”

For Sam, now a member of the Australian para-canoe team, it’s not only about the equipment on offer at Club Sargood, it’s the rich community she has become a part of.

“The people at Club Sargood have really become like a second family to me,” says Sam. “I don’t know what I’d do without them. It’s so great to be surrounded by people who just know what you’re experiencing“.

When Sam and Helen aren’t working up a sweat as boxing partners, they’re enjoying the family atmosphere, having a gossip and savouring a fresh cup of tea. “Coming to Club Sargood was the first time I’d talked to someone else who was in a wheelchair! It’s amazing because here you don’t need to explain what you need or how to do it, people just understand.” Helen says.

In Sam’s words, Club Sargood is a unique place where people with SCIs ultimately find a piece of themselves again.

“I led a super active life before the accident, and to lose that was soul crushing. Now I have the opportunity to do that again, and be myself. It’s fantastic.”
“Every person has a story, and here you get to hear it. When I come to Club Sargood I’m not struggling, it’s not an effort; I just fit in”.

Belle Camilleri

School holidays – a welcome break for most, but equally a scramble in the search for a destination with activities for the whole family. Throw in the added challenge of finding accommodation with fully accessible features and the process can become an overwhelming exercise – one that the Camilleri family is all too familiar with.

“Discovering Sargood on Collaroy with its custom-built comfort and accessibility was a refreshing change!” said Cathy, carer and mother to eight-year old Belle who has a spinal cord injury.

“Our three-week stay in the summer of 2018 was the first real holiday we have had following Belle’s accident almost five years ago. We’ve been on previous holidays where we’ve had to take air mattresses and all that kind of equipment, but here I don’t need to because I know she’s got what she needs.”

Sargood on Collaroy provides people like Cathy and her family with the opportunity to enjoy a holiday with ease and peace of mind knowing the resort can deliver on accessibility. From its purpose-built features and design, to offering a tailored choice of support and care, and the range of specialised equipment and daily living aids available at Sargood on Collaroy, guests can look forward to a truly worry-free resort experience.

“Being able to go somewhere as a family knowing that it can fully accommodate Belle and her needs has made a huge difference,” says Cathy.

In addition to a welcome respite for Cathy and the family, a holiday at Sargood on Collaroy opens up a world of possibilities for Belle who made the most of her time trying the host of activities offered through Sargood’s group-based Weekly Activity Program. From snorkelling, sailing and kayaking to dancing, enjoying the ocean pool swim or accessible local community facilities with her family and trialling the X8 4x4 wheelchair on the sand, not a moment of their stay was wasted.

“There’s a lot of skills that Belle has gained that she most likely would have never had a chance to if she had been able to walk. She would never have probably gone sailing, never tried kayaking…and I think that freedom is what a lot of people find at Sargood on Collaroy,” says Cathy who found there was even more to be gained from the people and families she met at Sargood.

“I think the biggest thing has been being able to talk to other people and families that are in similar situations. When you’re at home you’re kind of isolated so it’s nice to be able to talk to the other guests and learn little things to get you through the rest of your days when you’re not here at Sargood,” says Cathy.

The Sargood experience has provided the Camilleri family with the added bonus of an eight-year old who has grown a confidence and vivaciousness throughout their stay, developing a renewed understanding and acceptance of herself and her place in the world.

“She has really opened up here. She is not afraid to chat, it’s not taking a long time for her to talk to people when it would normally take her a few days or times talking to a person for her to come out of her shell,” says Cathy.

“I think it’s just the fact that she realises that everyone here is either in a wheelchair or has some kind of spinal cord injury and so they’ve all got stories. Sargood on Collaroy is going to be a big part of her life. A very big part.”

Katrina Ford

When Katrina stayed at Sargood on Collaroy her visit was more than just a getaway – it was her first “proper” holiday in 10 years.

Katrina was rendered a T4 complete paraplegic when the balcony of her home collapsed in 2006. After a combined 12 months in hospital and rehabilitation, the lawyer and single mother of three returned home to begin adjusting to life in a wheelchair. The accident not only changed her life, but also the lives of her children.

“When I had my accident my kids were 8, 11 and 14 and we all went through a big transition where we had to redefine roles. My kids became my predominant carers which meant that whenever I wanted to go anywhere I needed their help,” says Katrina.

Reviewing accessible travel options can be both a draining process and a financial strain for wheelchair travellers. From locating available accommodation to suitable amenities, equipment, and accessible attractions, the planning and consideration involved may be enough of a barrier for some looking for a short break or respite. The concept of a vacation became a “stressful undertaking” for Katrina, until she was introduced to Sargood on Collaroy.

Katrina first heard about Sargood on Collaroy from a friend, who is a Northern Beaches local. Discovering she was eligible to stay under the NDIS was an added bonus.

“In over 11 years we had one week of family holiday, which cost me a fortune,” says Katrina.

The unlimited adaptive activity options, included care and support, and accessibility-driven design redefined travel and reignited the enthusiasm and excitement around holidays again for Katrina. During her stay Katrina participated in art class and adaptive yoga and explored the surrounding Collaroy Accessibility Precinct, which offers accessible cafes, pathways, and even an accessible playground.

“Sargood on Collaroy is great because you get to see activities are available that you wouldn’t normally think is possible for a person in a wheelchair,” says Katrina.

“The staff also have the knowledge to give you confidence to try new things.”

But for Katrina, the element that sets Sargood on Collaroy apart from other accessible destinations is its ability to provide a meaningful and enjoyable holiday experience for the whole family. The effects of trauma or crisis go beyond the individual, and a place like Sargood on Collaroy, with quality equipment and qualified care and support, is a welcome retreat for people like Katrina, who was able to experience her first “real” holiday in years with her daughter and two-year-old granddaughter.

“It was great to be able to just relax and spend some bonding time, without having to worry about my needs,” says Katrina.

“A place like Sargood on Collaroy is a total game changer for a family who are adjusting to a member having a spinal injury. It creates an opportunity to enjoy each other without the stress or responsibility of ‘looking after their mum’. If something like this had been available when I first had my accident it would have made the biggest difference for our family, especially my kids.”

Katrina is looking forward to returning in the warmer months and participating in beach access and water activities, with plans already in place to spend Christmas with her parents, children and friends at Sargood on Collaroy.

“This is something I have not been able to do since my accident.”

Lee Ferrier

Lee was born in Queensland and grew up playing soccer, surfing, skating riding pushbikes and motorbikes He has always been an active person. Lee moved to Sydney when he was twenty and did an apprenticeship as a printer, he also drove a truck for a period of time.

Lee met his partner Rozina and they have been together for ten years. They have 2 children, Nikola Lee’s stepson who is 13 and Jett who is 5. Lee has continued his hobbies and is particularly passionate about motorcycling and attended track days at eastern creek regularly.

His motorcycle was also his main transport and after going and watching his eldest son play rugby league in April 2015 he was involved in a serious accident, which has left him paralysed from the chest down. Lee spent 3 months in Royal North Shore then a further 2 1/2 months at Royal Rehab Ryde.

Since leaving rehab he has got his license, he swims, surfs, enjoys archery & golf. Lee also intends to modify his motorcycle to go to the racetrack once again.

Lee’s life has completely changed since his accident but he doesn’t want his injury to dictate his life, he intends to continue doing the things he did in his life prior to his injury only a little different

Sargood has allowed Lee and his family to do something many take for granted – go on a holiday.

“You really have to plan everything before you go. It’s not a matter of being spontaneous and just going, ‘Okay, let’s go away for the weekend’ or something like that.” – Lee

“A lot of people don’t understand. They think he’s in a wheelchair, but he can walk into the bathroom, he can step into bed or step into the shower, so it’s complete peace of mind being able to come here and know that every need that Lee may have has been thought of.” – Rozina, Lee’s partner

Best thing about Sargood: “Being a surfer previously, personally, it’s having the staff here with the knowledge and ability to take me out into the surf and to be able to go surfing again is a massive thing.”

Cassy and Forrest

The experience that each and every family endures after a spinal cord injury is unique in every way. One of the first things you start to learn while in ICU, the trauma ward and then finally rehab, is that no 2 injuries are the same. When you look around you nothing makes sense. The guy next door breaks his C3 and walks out, the lady through the curtain breaks her lumbar and is complete and unable to move from the injury down. Before it happens to your family, you have no idea what injury level is, their incomplete or complete status and ASEA scores mean. You look for hope in every twitch of muscle and nerve, hoping it’s the start of something returning, only to find out it’s a spasm. But as time goes on we all face the stark reality of their own injuries and what it will mean for the life our family will live from now on. Everything you did as a family changes drastically including the way we travel and enjoy time away from home.

One of my selfish and internal fears I had as a wife of a new quadriplegic was the idea of never seeing my Australian family again. Travelling to and from Australia with kids had always presented it’s challenging but adding a quadriplegic to the mix was more than I thought I could handle and we can’t afford full time caregiving for me to leave for the 2 weeks I would need to see my family. Booking accommodation and travelling locally had taught me a few things already about the challenges of travelling with a spinal cord injury. The questions raced through my mind.. how can we fly that far without risking a pressure sore? what if the accommodation wasn’t suitable? how can I enjoy the holiday if I’m on deck caregiving for the entire trip while we left behind our caregivers who gave me breaks at home?… As a homesick Australian who needed my family more than ever after this accident, I was feeling depressed and without options.

In July of 2017, I was beginning to break under the financial and emotional stress of 2.5 years of caregiving, damage control for my family and learning to be there for my best friend in a totally different way. I needed to go home to my family, one way or another.. I needed to be surrounded by the love only my own family and my mum could provide. I found some cheap flights and decided the rest would have to fall into place, as we booked and planned in the coming months. I hadn’t done the math about how much it would cost to stay in various accommodation style. Air BnB, hotels, borrowed friend’s places, but none of it was affordable or suitable for our needs for a month, what had I done!? I’ve booked tickets and can’t afford to actually pay for the extensive accommodation requirements we needed to be safe and comfortable with Forrest’s injury. One of the decisions that every family makes in our home province is holidays or wheelchairs and adaptive devices? Our province in Canada gives no aid for equipment, therapy or wheelchairs, so it’s often our financial priority to keep Forrest in good equipment so he can be comfortable and increasingly independent.

When talking to my mum about my options she mentioned a new place opening in Collaroy for Spinal Cord Injury folks to stay and play. I had never heard of place like this before. The idea of purpose designed complex with surfing or snorkelling was intriguing to me. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure whether we could afford Sargood either, but I enquired anyway. After talking to Jess and Jody over emails about our financial limitations, I was asked what we could afford and our situation to need to see family. Through the enormously generous funding program offered at Sargood, I could see things coming together for us on this trip.

As we left Canada, and boarded the plane, I felt for the first time that I didn’t have to worry about the place were sleeping next. It was made just for us and we were confident for the first time ever about leaving the security of our comfortable and adapted home. It’s a fear that I believe most Spinal Cord injury feels when they leave home, and undeniable anxiety of giving up all of their hard work and independence when they travel.

Arriving at Sargood after 18 hours of flying and 24 hours of travelling was surreal. Calm, peaceful and bright with energy. We were greeted with warm hearts and open hands to help. To be honest it was difficult for me as mum, wife, caregiver and stubbornly independent women to accept the wonderful help that was being offered. Forrest was exhausted, and I was just happy to be home on Collaroy Beach, a very special place to me already. Collaroy was a second home to me as a child where my grandmother taught me to swim in the kids pool and loved to take us when she lived at Collaroy Plateau. We were home and we could finally relax after two and half years of adjusting to our new world.

The building and location was breathtaking with gorgeous views in every direction. The community kitchen was ideal in its design and community feel and the rooms were modern, comfortable and spacious with automation of all of the essential amenities in the room. From adjustable height kitchen tops, adjustable beds for easy transfer and care, automated windows and blinds and doors with easy opening features. All of the things we lose when we travel were here, allowing us to live as if we were in our adapted home, but it was way nicer! What an amazing concept!

We took a day to adjust and they had us signed up for a swimming session in the pool. Swimming had not been an option for us in the preceding 12 months as our local and only pool had no wheelchair access after the parking lot to entrance ramp was condemned as unsafe. This was really exciting for us and nerve wracking at the same time. So the time came and we met Seb and Sally. Seb was a bright, young guy with a gentle energy that immediately instilled a sense of confidence that everything was going to be great. It’s hard to describe how good it is to not have to constantly explain, educate and direct people on how best to handle Forrest and his injury. everything we usually have to go over, Seb went over with us.. wow that meant the world to us.. he got it.. all of it.. without explaining anything. This was bliss for us! Seb, Anthony and Sally became our crew for the coming weeks. Swimming went well so surfing was next. Forrest was pumped to give it a try and it was all he had been thinking about for months since we booked.

We arrived at the beach and nerves were palpable on our end, but we knew it was all going to be fine. Forrest went out with Seb on the jet propelled board and caught his first wave. The look on his face was magical and it was all too much for me. I broke down in tears of happiness and I couldn’t stop crying. These were my first tears of joy since this crazy part of our life started. We have invested every emotional penny we had to recovery and to get to this point in the game. We were finally living again, not just recovering. We could just be…. be relaxed… be free.. be us again.. as family a without the stresses of the unpredictability that comes with disabled travel.

Over the next 10 days we and our children met other courageous and brave families who were experiencing their own realities and life with a spinal cord injury. We felt normal for once and part of a new family. I’m not going to call it a new normal, because life with a SCI is far from normal, but we felt understood and didn’t need to explain things to those around us.

To all of the tireless work that goes into creating this space and for the efforts that went into saving the land, fund-raising, designing and building this heavenly place, we are forever grateful. Sargood is a filled with caring and loving professionals who genuinely care about the guests and their lives. Knowing we can come to this special place means that coming home for me is a reality and not just a fear. Home is not place but a feeling you have when you’ve arrived at a place of peace. Thank you Sargood… your impact on our life will last eternally.

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