Wade Bennett’s life changed forever when he was involved in a 180km/h waterskiing accident 22 years ago.
‘‘At the age of nine I competed in my first Southern 80,’’ the ex-Shepparton resident said.
‘‘I found my lifelong friends skiing on the Victoria Park Lake in Shepparton and up on the Murray River in Moama.’’
The talented athlete followed his older sister onto the waterskiing circuit and competed in his first professional race aged just 16.
‘‘I dedicated my life to it and was at that elite level, about the best 10 to 20 in the country, flying around Australia and New Zealand on weekends,’’ Mr Bennett said.
Aged 20, Mr Bennett moved to Sydney aiming to crack into the world title team.
‘‘That didn’t work out, so I moved back to Shepparton and decided I’d become the fastest race waterskier in the entire world,’’ he said.
But on April 16, 1995, aged 23, Mr Bennett competed in the Mildura 100 and ‘‘everything that could possibly go wrong’’ in a waterski race did.
‘‘I was about to retire at that point and only had about three or four more races left in me,’’ he said.
‘‘I thought I’d put on a show for the 2500-strong crowd, so I competed in a drag boat race against another competitor.’’
The now-banned drag racing event pitted two skiiers against one another, with ski boats starting side by side and a race to the finish line determining the winner.
‘‘The boat next to us jumped the start and when my boat fired up it booted forwards,’’ Mr Bennett said.
‘‘I was probably doing around 180km/h at that stage and the handle slipped down my leg.
‘‘The driver couldn’t see me asking him to slow down. You never go outside the wake in a ski race, but I thought that was the only way I could get the attention of the driver.
‘‘So I did and hit some unexpected rollers in the river.’’
The next thing Mr Bennett remembered was waking up in the Royal Adelaide Hospital 17 days later.
‘‘A fair few skiiers gave up ski racing after they saw my accident because it was so graphic,’’ he said.
Witnesses recalled Mr Bennett falling forward and knocking himself unconscious, despite wearing goggles and a protective race helmet.
‘‘My foot came out of the ski and I was cartwheeling over the water,’’ he said.
‘‘I broke my pelvis in two places, dislocated and fractured my arm, tore an artery in my leg, but the worst bit was that my stomach was ripped open.
‘‘I basically exploded.’’
Mr Bennett’s body ripped open from his stomach to his groin.
‘‘My bladder, bowel and intestines were all outside of my body and in my wetsuit,’’ he said.
‘‘Doctors told me it was like I had given birth to my own body.’’
Mr Bennett spent almost three weeks in an induced coma and when he woke he ‘‘lost everything’’.
‘‘My job, car, house at Bondi, sporting talent and ability to go outside and breathe fresh air, all gone in an instant,’’ he said.
‘‘The pain was at an indescribable level. If you touched the mattress I was laying on, the pain would go through my entire body.’’
Doctors from Adelaide and across Australia, who were world leaders in experimental surgery at the time, came up with ideas to deal with Mr Bennett’s injuries.
‘‘My bladder was so badly damaged that they took a section of my bowel and re-plumbed it,’’ he said.
‘‘They wired my bones together and cut muscle from undamaged areas and grafted them to fill the gaping holes.’’
For 22 long, painful and frustrating years, Mr Bennett soldiered on.
‘‘Being a sportsman I was so used to being an individual, but I’ve had to learn to ask for help,’’ he said.
‘‘I can’t do it myself any more, so that was probably the biggest change in my life.
‘‘I managed to maintain some exercise and fitness in the early years, enabling me to ski again.’’
In 1998, Mr Bennett made his comeback to competitive race skiing and competed in the Southern 80 in the disabled section, beating the previous record by 40 seconds.
Then in 2000 he led out the able-bodied Australian team at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games, which he likened to ‘‘standing on top of the world’’.
But in 2013 Mr Bennet was doing a side lunge ‘‘that didn’t quite feel right’’ and since then he has barely been able to sit or walk.
‘‘I tore all my skin grafts,’’ he said.
‘‘Since then I’ve had to lay flat on my back due to the extreme pain and discomfort.’’
Life these days is difficult with the wiring and mesh in Mr Bennett’s pelvis failing and his body slowly rejecting it.
A GoFundMe page has been created for the ski-racing legend with an aim to raise $10000 to help pay for outstanding fees associated with his injuries.
‘‘More than $9000 has already been raised, which is absolutely life-changing,’’ Mr Bennett said.
‘‘It makes me feel absolutely a million bucks and it will take a huge weight off my shoulders. I just can’t thank everyone enough.’’
Mr Bennett is set to have surgery number 64 next week and says he hopes to continue his hobby as an online waterskiing promoter after his recovery.
‘‘I’m now one of the biggest promoters in the world and run about 15 Facebook pages related to ski racing,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s what keeps me going — that, Instagram and commentating world titles on Twitter.’’
To donate to Wade Bennett’s GoFundMe page visit gofundme.com/3kpi5pk