Nic Beveridge: Embracing his 'second life'
Nic Beveridge has turned adversity into a great adventure that will take him to Rio.
Coming into the spring of 2003, Beveridge was going about his business like most other 17-year-olds living in Mackay.
There were term three exams to prepare for, not to mention finals of whatever sports team they were involved with.
For Beveridge, "We'd just been knocked out of the hockey finals," he recalls to Australian Regional Media. "But we had our club water polo final coming up.
"I was quite excited ... just getting in amongst it with your mates."
Sadly for the then Whitsunday Anglican School Year 12 student he would not take part in that final, or even exams. Instead, he would be forced to confront something far more daunting than anything his school or his opposition would serve up.
He had been on the phone one night at his family home, talking tactics with a teammate.
"And all of a sudden it just got really hard to breathe," he remembers.
"I got off the phone and by the time I got downstairs I was in a fair bit of trouble.
"I could still stand and walk but a lot of my muscles were involuntarily spasming on me and starting to get quite violent."
Parents Ian and Janelle rushed him to the nearby Mackay Private Hospital, where he was taken straight into the emergency room.
"By that stage I was experiencing a fair bit of pain.
"But, I think they just thought I was suffering from an anxiety attack or whatever. I said I'm not a very stressful person, so I don't think that's what this is.
"The last thing I remember was both my legs had shot straight up in the air and I passed out - I think it was just a bit too intense
"When I came to the next morning in hospital I was a complete paraplegic.
"It was pretty shocking."
Sent to Townsville and then down to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, it took doctors a month to finally diagnose what was happening to him - transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the spinal cord.
Thirteen years on, Beveridge still doesn't have full use of his trunk or legs. He can use crutches, but is still heavily reliant on a wheelchair.
"I'm referred to now as an incomplete paraplegic," he explains. "I did get a little bit of (movement) return, but with transverse myelitis you've got whatever nerve damage occurred, then you've got severe muscle weakness and fatigue in whatever areas have returned."
Beveridge also regained the competitive nature that had flowed through his veins.
"Once you've got an idea of what you're dealing with ... you go okay, cool this is how I can kind of attack it and move forward," he said.
"I was actually a bit more relieved that it happened to me and not someone I really care about. I would've felt helpless. At least the power is still in my hands in a way."
Beveridge says, however, it did take "longer than I'd like to admit" to direct that power towards an achievable goal.
"When I got transverse myelitis, I referred to it as the starting of a second life," he says.
"Things were just infinitely different to what they were like to when I was still fully-abled and 100 per cent healthy.
"Even dressing yourself … it can be quite difficult.
"I lost a lot of passion for the things I did really enjoy, sport being one of those.
"I did a little bit of swimming for rehab. I was told it was quite good at sparking some nerve regeneration.
"I tried a couple of competitions but that hunger just wasn't there."
By chance, Beveridge had experienced some complications to his condition in 2012 that required surgery.
"It worked out but I needed three months in bed to recover … and the London Paralympics was on during that time.
"I never really watched them before, to be honest."
But, it was then he saw a segment on champion Australian long jumper Kelly Cartwright.
"She lost her leg and maybe five or six months later she was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.
"I don't like using the word inspirational … but that was the first time in my life I've definitely been inspired. It invoked a reaction in me where I'm like 'I've got to do something with what I've got left'."
After a quick Google search, he had discovered paratriathlon and the exploits of Australian five-time world champion Bill Chaffey.
"He was training for an ironman at the time. Once I read that, within the space of 15 minutes I had my second shot of inspiration.
"I got in touch with Triathlon Queensland and they were great; they provided a lot of advice and actually put me in touch with Bill as well.
"I knew I could swim, just from the time I'd put into it to stay fit... even though I wasn't interested in competing.
"I just needed to get my hands on a hand cycle and race chair and learn how they both work."
After quickly mastering both machines used to complete the arduous 20km ride and 5km run, in addition to the 750m swim, Beveridge entered the 2013 World Championships in London, finishing 17th.
He has backed up with two ninth-place finishes at the worlds in Edmonton (2014) and Chicago (2015).
Still relatively new to the sport, he had set his sights on competing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
And it certainly looked as though Rio would not be an option after a nasty accident during competition in Robina that left him concussed.
"I went head-first into a fence post off my race chair and knocked myself out. It was pretty ugly.
"I just hit a corner too hard ... the adrenaline of it all, you think you can pull off the Superman moment."
Beveridge recovered and his form over a 12-month period allowed him to secure his ticket for Rio, where paratriathlon will make its Games debut.
"Some sports have one selection trial to be firing in. For us we had a 12-month qualifying window, so you have to consistently be getting good results.
"It is a rewarding experience, but it is difficult."
Having been living in Canberra around the corner from the Australian Institute of Sport, the recently turned 29-year-old has been training with Paralympic team-ate Brant Garvey under the coaching of Dan Atkins on the Gold Coast before flying out on August 31.
"Dan will definitely have us both going to Rio in the best possible shape.
"The training's really hard work. Most of the time, we're just trying to get through each day.
"I think once the work's all done, and we're sitting on the plane and we're heading over there, that's when I'll start to get really excited. I'll know that everything's done and it's just about execution."
One-time hero and now great friend and fellow PT1 class competitor Chaffey has also been a constant source of advice.
"I'm sentimental, so for me to be going to my first Paralympics with Bill ... it's a nice feeling."
Beveridge is getting used to becoming a 'poster boy' himself for what can be achieved in spite of great adversity.
"Someone tagged me in a photo on Facebook ... a Year Four school student had made a poster of me competing in triathlon.
"I felt myself welling up a little bit, that there's people as young as year four interested in the Paralympics and want to do assignments on it, want to learn about the sport but also teach others as well. It was a really nice moment."