Lift us up where we belong
I have met many incredible people in my life. As a journalist I got to meet characters that made headlines for right and wrong reasons. I met famous people, quiet achievers, the selfless and the driven. I met mad cat ladies, smooth mafia hoods and earnest politicians. I met people like RM Williams, Steve Irwin, Tommy Emmanuel, Jimmy Barnes…
But in all my life, I have never met anyone like Rob Cook.
Rob agreed to be part of an event I helped organise last week… I had read about him, been inspired to recommend him, and enthusiastically anticipated his presentation to a gathering of assorted cattle producers from around the world. I knew his story would shock some people, and I arrived there expecting him to inspire me. To help put the pressures of my life, and those around me, into some perspective.
I thought I knew… but I really had NO idea what I was in for.
Rob is a young man, who happens to live on the most remote cattle station in Australia. And if you know Australia at all, you will understand that is a long, LONG way from anywhere. He was a rodeo star, a go-get-em kinda guy from a very large but close-knit family, married to his sweetheart, Sarah. He has piercing blue eyes, a direct manner and two adorable kids.
He is also a quadraplegic.
And while I knew this fact, before he was lifted onto stage by a couple of burly Brangus breeders… I didn’t GET it.
Once up on stage, in command of his audience, Rob shared his life story – up to, including, and beyond THAT day when his life changed irrevocably.
The pivotal moment was a helicopter crash, on his property, about as far from civilisation and medical help as it is possible to get.
I am not going to share every detail of his story, because, honestly, I think you need to hear that from the man himself. No-one can tell his story like he can*.
He tells of hanging awkwardly in the chopper wreckage, of knowing his injuries were life-threatening and considering telling the pilot to tell his wife and kids he loved them. But holding back because he decided, that would be a coward’s way out. The least he could do, he thought, was live long enough to tell them himself.
He tells of being on life support, where the medical experts had done all they could and finally said: we can do no more – from this point on it’s up to the patient. And he decided right there: Okay. I now have a goal.
And three weeks later, he finally did it. He breathed on his own. It would be the first of his new challenges – and he would meet them all with the same clear-eyed detirmination.
Rob won a scholarship called the Nuffield, which helped pay for travel to gather information and ideas for improving his farming practice. It did not cover the costs of his family and carers to travel with him. So he fund-raised. Not by selling chooks at the pub – but by driving his wheelchair 730 km across the desert. Uh huh. Driving his motorised wheelchair (he can move a thumb) across the DESERT. He did it, and together they travelled and gathered ideas to help he (and others who might find themselves in his position) operate their businesses. Because, in the end, all this young beef producer wants to is go back to work.
Each of these stories I retell here is but a tiny snippet of the epic battles this guy has taken on.
He tells them with confidence and candour and colour, in such a way that his wheelchair seems to dissolve and his attitude and personality fill the room. I felt myself being lifted and my own issues being shrunk with every word. I decided right there that everyone needs to hear him speak.
And you won’t fully understand why until you sit in a room with him and listen. Rob’s motto is:
“I would rather attempt something great and fail, than to do nothing at all and succeed.”
How is THAT for an attitude?
I think it was his response to a question I asked at the end of his presentation that totally sealed it for me. I asked:
“You are here, inspiring us. But who inspires you?”
With a blink or hesitation, he answered:
I pretty much lost it right then. Later, I asked her how she coped with the emotional fallout when he shares their intense and personal story with others. She admitted it was hard in the beginning, and she used to sit behind him so no-one could see. Then she looked at me and said:
“You know… HE’S the one – for all of us. Some people get angry when this kind of thing happens, but not Rob… I have never seen him have a down day.”
Can you imagine?
But only because I got to meet him, and share his special kind of energy and outlook for a short while.
I hope, one day, you get to meet Rob and Sarah in real life too… I urge you all to explore Rob’s story more here* on his website. Spend some time – and maybe leave a message. I am trying to encourage he and Sarah to blog some more… the world needs some more of their attitude, don’t you think?