It was a regular Saturday night catch-up with mates when talk turned to the similarity between Nick Dempsey and his older brother Mitchell.
I've learnt to be a lot more patient. One guy in rehab said, 'Let yourself have the bad days' ... that helped.Nick Dempsey
“The subject came up that we look alike except that Mitchell has his ears pierced,” Nick begins with a sheepish grin.
“Then (after a couple of drinks) Mitchell, 27, pierced mine with his earrings … dipped in a bit of vodka.”
The boys’ mother, Trudy, had gone away for the night and dad Peter reveals that he went to bed and woke up to his youngest son’s newly pierced lobes.
“So life’s pretty normal for him – except it’s in a chair,” Peter says.
Nick was diagnosed with C4 quadriplegia after a diving accident at his 21st birthday a little more than a year ago.
Life has now settled into a familiar ryhthm with daily therapy in Albury and weekly trips to Melbourne to build up strength and movement.
The cost of attending the NeuroMoves therapy at the spinal cord rehabilitation centre in Melbourne is partially offset by the Border’s generous fundraising efforts.
This included last year’s inaugural open water swim at Bonegilla, organised by the Ovens and Murray Water Polo Association shortly after Nick’s accident.
More than 140 stoic swimmers took to the water for the 1500-metre marathon in wild and windy conditions, with the event raising more than $10,000.
Registrations have now opened for this year’s Dip 4 Dempsey fundraiser on March 9 and organisers have expanded the program in a bid to encourage greater community involvement.
The event will include an under-14 and open 500-metre swim as well as a two-kilometre trek for seasoned swimmers.
Committee member Nash Clark says “you could never get worse conditions” than last year’s swim.
But the tidal wave of support for Nick buoyed swimmers struggling in the rough water; with many determined to finish to honour the injured young man’s own personal battle.
“I think Nick’s dad, Peter, was one of the first swimmers to register and among the last out of the water,” Nash says.
“A lot of Nick’s water polo team-mates swam out to meet and support Peter to finish.
“It was a very emotional moment.”
During an interview with the Dempseys at their home on Thursday, Peter cheerfully remarked that he’d already entered again for this year’s event.
“But this time I’ve registered for the 500-metre swim,” he says.
“I haven’t hopped in the water since the last Dip 4 Dempsey.”
This year Nick will have a waterfront seat at the Albury-Wodonga Yacht Club to cheer on family, friends and supporters.
He reckons his dad’s swim last year, watched via Face Time, was a “bloody good effort”.
Both he and mum Trudy say it is impossible to express their appreciation for the support the family has received in the past 12 months.
Volunteers have also thrown their tools and time behind a building project to raise money towards Nick’s ongoing rehabilitation.
“Even just talking to others in Melbourne, they’ve had nothing like the support I’ve had from the community,” Nick says.
Knowing the extent of people’s generosity and care helps boster the young man on the not-so-good days.
“There is a lot of down time,” he admits.
“I guess that’s why it’s a good thing to have something on each day.”
Every second Monday it’s hydro-therapy; on Tuesdays it’s occupational therapy; on Wednesdays there is a session at Flex Out Physiotherapy; Friday is spent with exercise physiologists at the hospital; and on Thursday it’s the trip to Melbourne.
In between Trudy has given up her job to assist Nick at home, encouraging the relentless exercises that help him make a little progress each day.
“I can see him getting stronger,” Trudy says.
“Little things are getting easier.
“He still needs help with the majority of tasks … but it’s early days yet.”
Helping their once-independent son and brother on his journey to recovery has brought new challenges to this tightly-knit family.
But spend even a short amount of time with the Dempseys and it’s clear their bond has deepened.
“I’m a lot closer to my brothers now,” Nick says.
“Yeah, well I never had to take him to the toilet before,” teases brother Rhys good-naturedly.
Initially, even Nick’s closest mates weren’t sure how to react to his injury, according to Trudy.
“But he’s still the same old Nick,” she says.
“Now they’re riding around on the back of his chair.”
Nick is also returning to study and is set to start a diploma of building design at TAFE.
He’s focused on the path to recovery and says he doesn’t sweat the small stuff these days.
“Something like this changes your perspective on life,” he says.
“I’ve learnt to be a lot more patient.
“I’ve spoken to people who are years down the track of rehabilitation and they tell me you never stop improving.
“One guy (in rehab) said, ‘Let yourself have the bad days’ … that helped.”
- Registrations are now open for the 2018 Dip 4 Dempsey fundraiser on March 9. To enter or offer sponsorship go to the event’s Facebook page.