From the seat of his wheelchair, Philip Stephens has travelled the world and climbed Machu Picchu. Now, he’s written a memoir that illustrates his life of adventure.
To say that Philip Stephens has turned tragedy into triumph would be quite the understatement. So who is he?
Philip was recently interviewed by Anthony Adams for his podcast Ant’s Talk, and their chat centred around travels to Asia, Egypt, Hawaii and Machu Picchu. Not so unusual, until you consider that Philip is in a wheelchair with limited use of his arms and hands.
Up until the age of 18, Philip was a regular Northern Beaches teenager; he surfed and hung out with his mates doing what regular teenagers did in the late 70s. One fateful last dive into the waves in 1978, not to surf, but to wash off the sand changed it all; his head hit a sandbank, and he almost died. Thankfully his mates were waiting for him and watching, and pulled him from the water almost lifeless.
Paramedics took him to one of the local hospitals where after waking, and not being fully aware of what he was experiencing, he waited 5 weeks until his family finally confirmed his suspicions that he wouldn’t walk again. The diagnosis was a broken neck.
From that moment on, Philip has done things his way. He spent 6 months (and four days) in hospital, during which time he didn’t really comply with the normal rehabilitation routines. Philip insisted from the outset that his family and friends were critical to his recovery both mentally and physically. The physios and OTs allowed him to go to mates’ football games, outings, and he maintained his interaction with his nearest and dearest while going through the gruelling regime of physio and learning to live with his disability.
He struggled with his dependence on others and the inability for spontaneity during his recovery, but through the realisation that everyone was there for him, and more importantly, he reinvented himself and learnt to cope with the hand that he had been dealt.
Philip admits one of his worst experiences was getting back in the water. His first attempt was during rehab, where he was gripped by a fear that was unfamiliar to the boy from the beach. So he talked himself around and tried again a few days later, but to the same effect. His dogged determination and his innate love of the water convinced him to beat the fear. He engaged a couple of mates to take him to one of their backyard pools without the knowledge of his family.
It worked, and Philip maintains the success of that event was due to the mutual trust between him and his mates, and their unwavering support.
With the encouragement, support and company of his support network, Philip has gone on to do some things that those of us without his limitations may only dream of. He accepted the things he couldn’t change, and with his trusted teams around him started investigating the things that were actually possible.
He’s been scuba diving in Hawaii and other places with some mates, and recalls the blissful weightless floating of the experience.
He’s visited Egypt, and talks about his dramatic reaction to the historic temples of Luxor and timelessness and spirituality of the pyramids in Giza, and Valley of the Kings. Further journeys have taken him to the stunning Angkor Wat Buddhist temple in Cambodia and to the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens. Philip’s passion for ancient cultures has navigated his travels, and he’s become an intrepid adventurer despite being wheelchair-bound.
The highlight so far for him has been Machu Picchu, the 15th-century Incan ruins almost 2500 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains of Peru. It took a staggering amount of planning, and the resolute support of a few (strong) friends and a skilled guide to get him to the top. His voice almost cracks when you hear him speak of the exhilaration, gratitude and awe as he took in the vista from the peak.
In between his adventurous life, he engages in speaking at events for inspiration and education of issues surrounding disability and challenges. He’s just written a book titled My Lucky Break that encapsulates his fight, determination and experiences, to live his adventure-filled life as normally as possible.
At the close of the interview, he is adamant and stresses that none of his recovery and ensuing success would have occurred without the encouragement and unflagging support of his family and friends. His great life is possible thanks to his friends that have become carers; and the carers that have become friends. Philip admits he just couldn’t have done it without them.