How football drove me to walk and talk again

Published on 14 Sep 2020

Chris Pyne smiling at the camera infront of a yellow jersey with 100 printed on the back

To say Chris Pyne loves football is an understatement.

Speaking to APM and Konekt health teams in the latest Lockdown Live series of talks, Chris shared his passion for the sport which started when he was four, running around on the field as a child.

However, Chris’ time on the field required a rather long hiatus.

On December 24, at age 6, Chris was bushwalking with his brother in the Blue Mountains, where they lived, when he slipped and fell down a cliff.

Christmas and the first few weeks of the New Year, were a sober affair in the Pyne family household.

Chris spent that time in a coma, after suffering a significant brain injury and was paralysed down the entire right side of his body.

When Chris awoke, doctors said his outlook was rather bleak and he may struggle to walk and talk again.

But it didn’t take long for Chris to find his voice. And when he did, his first question was: “Am I going to be able to play football this year?”

His parents had no choice but to shake their heads and reluctantly tell him he wouldn’t.

Role of rehab professionals

Chris spent the next year in hospital rehabilitating with a team of occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists all playing a major part of his recovery.

Today, Chris describes his rehabilitation team as “the most specialist people in my life that I will always remember”.

Chris told the APM and Konekt health teams how his occupational therapist Suzanne was the driving force behind his motivation to use both his hands again.

Suzanne made rehab fun by playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Meanwhile, Stacey, who Chris describes as a really tall therapist, never let him stop.

'One more, one more…' Was something Chris heard a lot.

Adjusting to changes

Right-handed prior to the accident Chris needed to learn to write again with his left hand.

After learning how to walk and talk again, Chris returned to school halfway through year 2 with a pronounced limp as the injury impacted his growth and made one leg shorter than the other.

By chance, Chris said his brother found an ad in the paper for Athletes with Disabilities (AWD) Athletics.

For the next few years, Chris would become a competitive athlete.

Although he was good - winning a number of gold medals – his real passion was still for football.

It was when he was 14 that his parents received a call about an opportunity to join a Cerebral Palsy National

Team to compete in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Players line up for a Paralympic Soccer Team photo

Back in the game

Although he was nervous at first training session because he hadn’t played in a while, Chris soon found he was still quick, agile and ready to compete!

Fast forward two years, and Chris was representing Australia in the Ukraine. It was here that Chris saw what Paralympic football was all about – they were professional and they were paid.

Chris stayed at a school for students with acquired brain injuries and cerebral palsy where he joined an amazing talent pool of potential players. A team known to challenge the professionals at Sydney FC.

Back home in Australia, Chris’ team was made up of nurses, educators and financial advisors who needed to take leave from their careers to travel for games.

Although he remembers the buzz of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Chris looks back and says his 16-year-old self didn’t realise the magnitude of what it means to run out on the field in the Australian jersey.

For Chris it was just the start and he would go on to achieve an amazing 100 caps for his country.

Speaking about the inner drive needed to maintain his success, Chris said his competitive nature helped him overcome the challenges of only playing four times a year.

Inspiration and motivation

Chris praises the work of his school teacher, Mr Bamford, who Chris says gave him the self-confidence to succeed in school, and then in life afterwards.

Mr Bamford’s impact even inspired Chris to become a teacher himself.

“He gave me confidence and opportunity – he treated me like one of the others,” Chris said.

Chris said this was incredibly important about the roles of rehabilitation professionals – to say yes, you can do it (post-injury) – and show clients how.

Chris said he wouldn’t be a footballer without his rehab professionals and he spoke about one of his teammates that did “too well” with his rehab and was ineligible to be in the team.

Chris said the role of health professionals is essential in creating independence while fostering a sense of identity and future for an individual.

Chris holding a young child who is pointing a finger and smiling

Future plans

Chris has retired after earning 103 caps playing for Australia. Now living with this wife and two young children, Chris is Assistant Principal at Winmalee Public School in the Blue Mountains of Sydney, where he grew up.

Along with continuing his football legacy via mentoring and coaching and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance football program, Chris said his motivation is still to do one better than his teacher Mr Bamford… Principal it is!