Joe Chivers’s first tandem skydiving experience became memorable for all the wrong reasons when the parachute carrying him and his instructor collapsed and the pair plummeted 30 metres to the ground.
The 21-year-old was blown off course during the jump over Hobart in 2019 and he crushed his L1 verterbrae on landing before being dragged across the ground.
The accident made the aspiring AFL player a paraplegic but Mr Chivers has dedicated his life to returning to sport.
He says and says the decade since he sustained the life-changing injuries has been difficult and filled with “severe mental health issues”.
Through it all though, he has re-engaged with his community and in particular has returned to footy as an employee with AFL Tasmania.
The job provides a daily “pinch myself” moment for Mr Chivers.
Meet ‘regular old Joe’
A brief news report in 2009 captures the horror of the skydiving accident.
It describes the terrible weather conditions and an unidentified, injured skydiver being flown to Melbourne for further treatment.
“We were to land in Hobart at The Cenotaph, but we were blown off course to the eastern shore and as we came down and level with the Tasman Bridge it acted as a windbreak,” Mr Chivers said.
“We fell 30 metres — it was a really traumatic injury and required a lot of rehab but luckily I came through.”
Mr Chivers now describes himself as an L1 incomplete paraplegic, a person living with a disability, or simply, “regular old Joe”.
He strives to make sure his life is not defined by his disability, but knows it is important to who he is today.
So is sport.
“Sport is a huge part of my life, probably the main part of my life to be honest,” Mr Chivers says.
“It’s been a part of my life, basically for the whole of my existence in one way or another.”
Para-sportsman perseveres with pain
Before the accident, Mr Chivers played football from an early age and had been training to play in Tasmania’s state-wide football league.
It took six to seven years post-injury for him to leave the house and re-engage with sport, but not before he attempted to take his own life.
“Fortunately for my friends and family and myself, they were there for me. It’s hard to describe at times but coming out the other side, it’s been a really positive experience.” Mr Chivers says.
Basketball is the first sport Mr Chivers played as a para-athlete, taking it up during rehabilitation.
He has since gone on to play almost every para-sport since, including para-rowing and wheelchair football.
“Para-sport has taken me all over Australia, I’ve played in nearly every state and coached in a couple as well,” Mr Chivers says.
Potential for more inclusivity
Sport has even taken him overseas when he competed in the world para-ice hockey championships as part of the Australian men’s team.
He said such opportunities were hard to come by a decade ago, but access in Tasmania has improved.
“When I took up para-rowing it took a little while to find a coach and a club that was willing to take on someone living with a disability,” Mr Chivers says.
“It was really fantastic that Buckingham Rowing Club took me on and my coach, Gordon Stewart, was so patient and willing to learn as well.”
Mr Chivers’s recently-secured, paid position with AFL Tasmania as a ClubHelp Coordinator has him helping local community clubs with off-field accessibility and promotion.
He says it’s area with huge potential for boosting inclusivity.
“Footy clubs really have an opportunity to engage with volunteers, the community and players and create a wonderful and safe environment for everyone,” Mr Chivers says.
“Everyone can contribute to their community.”
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