Thirty years ago a young, active Geoff Chandler was in the prime of his life. The then 23-year-old Geoff loved running, basketball and had a passion for footy. Geoff’s life was full and budding with opportunities. However, Geoff’s path changed dramatically when he was involved in a devastating motorbike accident that left him with breaks and fractures all over his body. Furthermore, Geoff’s right leg was severely damaged, and he battled with the resulting chronic leg pain for almost 26 years.
Geoff remained in hospital for nine months following the accident. It was during this time that Geoff had a conversation with one of his doctors who said to him “you’ll never run again and that I would need to use a walking aid for the rest of my life”. At the time Geoff said to himself “never, ever forget those words and use every opportunity to prove them wrong”. And proving them wrong he has over the years!
Geoff did everything he could to remain as positive as possible, however the recurring pain and difficulties in his damaged leg did place limitations on him. This was particularly the case in the early years after his accident. Glen Bow, the President at Geoff’s local footy club in Geelong, became a close friend and mentor after he had his accident. Glen assisted Geoff to find work at AWH Logistics, a local wool shed, and this supportive employer provided him with responsibilities that allowed him to work while sitting down.
Having grown up as an active and athletic child and young man Geoff desperately wanted to return to playing sport after his accident but said that “because of the leg, I just couldn’t do it”.
Years later, in 2009, Geoff slipped and fell while crossing the road. This accident resulted in Geoff shattering his already fragile leg, and he experienced another lengthy recovery period. “After six months in plaster the cast was taken off, they did an X-ray and it didn’t look good,” Geoff recounted. Unfortunately, Geoff’s leg wasn’t healing with the next proposed option being bone grafts; something Geoff wasn’t interested in going through.
“I wanted to get on with my life, and I didn’t want to put up with any more pain,” Geoff recalled. It was at that point that Geoff decided to ask about a leg amputation
After careful consideration with his doctor and discussions with his family, Geoff decided that an elective amputation would give him the best possible outcome and a chance to live a life free from pain. Two weeks later Geoff had his right leg amputated below the knee.
“While I was recovering from my surgery I remembered what I was told all those years ago, and I thought now is my chance to prove that I can live my life to the full and I began planning what my next moves would be,” Geoff said.
Even before Geoff was fitted with his first prosthesis he decided that he wanted to attempt the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. In fact, Geoff had wanted to do it many years earlier but because of his damaged leg he knew it was “never going to happen”. Geoff’s interest in the Kokoda Track is a very personal one. “My father was a Digger at Kokoda, it has always been a dream of mine to complete the track to gain an understanding of what he and his mates went through,” Geoff explained. Once he was fitted with his prosthesis, and had adjusted to a life without chronic pain, Geoff decided that he would attempt the Kokoda Track.
But before that, Geoff had to adjust to his “new and improved life” – a life with more activity. Within two months of his amputation Geoff returned to work at AWH Logistics, but now with a capacity to stand rather than sit at work. Four months after his amputation Geoff entered his very first ‘Fun Run’, spending the previous months training his body to participate in that sort of exercise.
Not long after that, Geoff received one of the most exhilarating and unexpected phone calls of his life. It was from the organiser of the Kokoda Brothers Tour. Unbeknownst to Geoff, his rehabilitation nurse contacted them shortly after his amputation telling them that the 96km Kokoda Track was his lifelong dream. In July 2011 the dream became a reality. After months of training Geoff set off with the Kokoda Brothers Tour and fourteen other participants and completed the eight-day trek. “There is no doubt it was the hardest thing I have ever done but I loved every minute of it, and each night the satisfaction I gained from completing another day on the track was unexplainable,” Geoff stated.
When Geoff’s mentor Glen lost his battle with cancer, he was inspired to undertake a fundraising trek to Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2013. In completing this African trek Geoff was able to raise a staggering ten thousand dollars for Anam Cara House, a community service that provided care to his friend Glen. “When I got to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro I said G’day to Glen, because 6,000 meters above sea level was the closest I could get to him,” Geoff shared.
Geoff continues to work with his original employer, at the wool shed, but now holds a supervisor’s role. Geoff is actively involved in his community and speaks at various public events, in addition to continuing to raise funds for causes that are close to his heart. Geoff is also about to be trained as a Limbs 4 Life Peer Support Volunteer, as he is keen to give back to the amputee community that he is now a part of.
Geoff hopes that by sharing his story, it will help to inspire others to find ways that they can safely and positively be active and contributing members of their own local communities.