Zoe's Story

Published on 23 Sep 2020

Zoe’s journey is one which is close to home, because she’s a former Konekt Occupational Therapist!

Her incredible journey of recovery, study, training and filming all started with a collision on a netball court – this is her story.

At age 15, Zoe was a competitive netball player. A couple of words that feature heavily in Zoe’s story, are 'competitive' and 'go hard'.

Zoe was involved in a collision during a netball tournament – her Physiotherapist noted Zoe had scoliosis – a genetic curvature of the spine that develops and becomes more pronounced as you grow and mature.

Initially, Zoe’s curvature in the spine was 32 degrees. However, after just 6 months, this had increased to a painful 62 degrees.

Whilst Zoe admits the pain was significant, as a teenager growing up in Albury, NSW, she was more worried about her body appearing so twisted.

With such a severe curvature she developed a large lump on her shoulder which made her quite self-conscious.

With the knowledge that her spine was only going to get worse as she grew, Zoe was determined to engage in major surgery to correct her spine – something her parents were less than eager to approve given the significant risks involved.

After much deliberation, Zoe’s parents approved the surgery, and Zoe underwent an anterior fusion. Surgeons removed one of her ribs, deflated her lung, and went in to straighten her spine – inserting a titanium rod and 5 screws before re-inflating her lung, popping her rib back in and stitching her up, leaving a 50cm scar.

The surgery was successful, returning her curvature to a much more pleasant 25 degrees, and with the confidence that the rod and screws will ensure her curvature does not move again.

Zoe’s recovery involved intensive occupational therapy and physiotherapy. She was fitted with a brace for the first three months, and physiotherapy focussed heavily on the rehabilitation of her lungs, twice weekly for three months. Her goal was to get back onto the netball court.

Whilst Zoe was recovering, she threw herself into her study. Her competitive streak reared its head once more, with the goal of beating her brother’s University Admission Index (UAI).

After her surgery experience, Zoe wanted to go to University and become an Occupational Therapist. Zoe had a newfound respect for what they did and believed that her progress and goals were all achieved with their help and wanted to do that for others.

Over time, Zoe’s love of netball faded, but she still had to find a way to build her core strength. Pilates didn’t present as enough of a challenge for Zoe, so she turned to Pole Dancing! Zoe loved the physical challenge and built amazing upper body strength.

Zoe did well in her Higher School Certificate (HSC) and went on to study Occupational Therapy at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Albury. Upon graduating, Zoe moved to Canberra and joined the Konekt team, working as a Rehabilitation Consultant by day. By night, she had joined a new studio, and became a pole dancing instructor, which helped her build a work and social network in her new home.

Coming to a new city, embarking on her professional career and making new friends, Zoe highlighted the value of a supportive team culture and social network.

When watching tv and an ad came on for Channel 9’s Ninja Warrior trials and Zoe thought, why not?!

Zoe made it through the trials for season one, but filming was exhausting. By the time Zoe’s turn was up to run the Ninja Warrior course, it was 3am and she was already exhausted. She missed out on the semi-finals, but when she had another go in season two, she made it.

She might not have made it all the way to a win, but she loved every second of it!

Image source: Lorna Jane

Her experiences led to great opportunities, such as being awarded the inaugural Lorna Jane True Believer award, recognising her achievements through her dedication, drive and unstoppable self-belief.

Zoe then went on to walking the Kokoda trail with her father and partner, honouring her grandfather who was based in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War.

Back home, Zoe decided to try her hand at paediatric occupational therapy. After some time applying her skill,

Zoe took up an opportunity to work as a FIFO worker on Nauru as the mental health occupational therapist on the island working with asylum seeker children.

Nauru is only 20km in radius, making it the smallest island nation in the world She worked 6 weeks on / 6 weeks off swing, which involved daily 12 hour work shifts.

Zoe worked with a medical and allied health team, running group programs, developing the children’s social skills and filling gaps in their development. Zoe described the resilience and outlook needed to work with these amazing children who had often been exposed to significant trauma.

When she thinks about the allied health professionals who aided her recovery all those years ago, Zoe laments she didn’t think she quite understood at the time the profound, positive impact the allied health professionals had on her life and future.

From then, all the way to Nauru ad even her next adventure, Zoe will always be keen for her next adventure and an opportunity to help others.