Inspirational recovery for Proserpine BMX rider
TWILIGHT falling on the Proserpine BMX track makes the shadows hug the recently compacted mounds, signalling the perfect time to hit the track for a Monday practice session or Friday night racing under the lights.
Proserpine local Anthony Pendlebury has been a regular at the track since he was four years old and apart from trying football for a two-week stint, the sport has played a huge role in shaping the young man he is today.
Near the BMX club's grandstand, he playfully flirts with his girlfriend and fellow BMX rider Taylor Kerr as she tries to push him off the bike - Anthony's right hand is strapped to his bike, which makes balance difficult, and as he wobbles dangerously close to toppling Taylor grabs his arm and steadies him.
A man of few words, Anthony's a typical teenager trying to pass Year 12, get his driver's licence and regularly pushing the thrill-seeking limits on his push bike - bunny-hopping and doing wheelies around town.
The only difference with Anthony is he can't feel his right arm from the elbow down.
It was March 4 last year when Anthony was riding dirt bikes with mates in Crystal Brook when doing what he loved took a horror turn.
Mirani lad Glen Vezzoli and Anthony collided, ending with Glen in a coma and Anthony in an intensive care unit.
Even now the boys have years of rehabilitation and treatment ahead of them.
Talking about the incident in retrospect, Anthony laughs when asked about his injuries.
"I broke like everything,” he said.
The list includes three broken toes (his big toe so severe it now has wire in it), broken foot, broken ankle, four broken ribs, broken collarbone, lost tips of the fingers on his right hand, head injuries and blood clots.
Then there's the most permanent injury of all - severing his right arm nerves from his spine, which means he has no feeling or movement in his right arm below the elbow.
The 16-year-old doesn't remember the incident, but through others' accounts he was told the third member riding with the boys that day rode off for help and he woke up in hospital.
"When I woke up in hospital, I didn't really understand what had happened for the first five days,” Anthony said.
"It wasn't easy.”
Over all the teenager came away with 13 fractures and spent six weeks after hospital in a wheelchair, which coincided with the time Tropical Cyclone Debbie struck the region.
"The cyclone was hard because on top of everything, Anthony wanted to sit outside in his wheelchair and see the weather,” mum Mary Pendlebury said.
"I was terrified because we were meant to get little ramps in the home for the chair to go through doorways but he found a way to do it himself by bunny-hopping over them backwards.”
Last April, VMR Whitsunday donated the use of their licensed facility to hold a family afternoon fundraising for the boys, with prizes donated from thecommunity to auction off to help pay for their recovery.
At the time Glen's sister, Kerrie, told the Whitsunday Coast Guardian Glen had just woken from a coma and had his foot amputated following injuries from the crash.
Glen's girlfriend, Taleah Webster, set up a GoFundMe page, which received $6000 in donations in two months.
The families of both boys said the community support had been amazing, with nearly $10,000 worth of goods donated to help with their recovery bills.
However they both face hefty medical bills in the years ahead.
"I have my bad days ... and my good days,” Anthony said.
Almost 12 months ago to the day Anthony told the Whitsunday Coast Guardian he was still unable to get back on a bike, drive a manual car or achieve his immediate goal to "do a one-handed push-up”.
"I'm just living day by day - the recovery is slow but worth it,” he said at the time.
"(My goal is) I want to get back to racing BMX.”
And achieve this goal he did.
Anthony zoomed around the Moranbah BMX track last month to finish third in his first race since the accident.
His hand was attached to the bike's handle bars with a special glove attachment, which would release if he fell off, designed by his girlfriend's mother and Proserpine BMX Club president Kristy Puckridge.
Even at the brief training session on Tuesday evening, Anthony could not keep the smile off his face - especially considering he had just finished his required hours behind the modified wheel of his mother's automatic car for his driver's licence.
If that wasn't reason enough to show the pearly whites, after a week-long intensive rehab session in Townsville, Anthony improved his hand extension to 26 per cent and flexion to 73 per cent - a feat he was told initially by Brisbane doctors he would never be able to achieve.
In fact in previous sessions those figures were sitting as low as 3 per cent.
Anthony is on the mend but he couldn't have done it without the strong women in his life - mother Mary and girlfriend Taylor, who he credits with getting him through the hard times.
"It was certainly life-changing,” Ms Pendlebury said.
"He started riding around town again on his mountain bike steering with one hand as soon as he could ... which turned out to be long before he got the all clear to.”
Anthony has scars across his chest and shoulders from surgery late last year, when doctors took nerves from his chest and implanted them into his arm in the hopes of returning some movement to the limb in the years to come.
"I'm starting to get a little finger movement and some feeling in my elbow,” Anthony said.
"The goal at the end of the day is to get back the movement to what it used to be, but that will take time.”
The accident changed a lot of things for Anthony and not all of them were physical.
"My whole attitude on things changed, like how I look at a lot of people differently because I don't know on the surface what they might be going through,” he said.
"I can't thank my support network enough, especially my mum and girlfriend for keeping me company and coming with me for rehab and physio.”
Taylor and Anthony have been together for two years after their parents forced both riders to go to the gym together to prepare for the BMX state championships.
But despite all the change that has happened in the last year, one thing has remained constant for Anthony.
"I just love BMX,” he said.
"It takes a lot more trust to ride around the track not to come off because I'm steering with one arm and I'm not as fast or up to jumping yet, but it feels great to be back on the bike.” The next goal for Anthony is to get back behind the handlebar of a motorcycle.
"I'm not up to it just yet,” he said.
Ms Pendlebury, instead of shying away from the concept of her son back on a bike, said she wanted to be there to witness it in person.
"I wanted to see him ride again,” she said.
"I actually like watching him ride BMX better now because he doesn't go as fast or jump as high, I'm not as worried.”
The same daredevil spirit that had the teen hitting breakneck speeds around the track has him trying bunny hops and wheel stands, adding a new trick to his resume each week.
Anthony attends physiotherapy once a week, with week-long intensive sessions in Townsville every few months.
There is a possibility in the future he may need more surgery on the damaged nerves with specialists in Brisbane.
But for the meantime Anthony is gearing up to race tonight in the local BMX twilight racing before taking on the Rumble for Ronald McDonald fundraising carnival tomorrow.
As someone who's loved ones benefited from the use of the Ronald McDonald House Charity while he was in hospital in Brisbane, the cause is very close to Anthony's heart.