My CV will tell you that my name is Mark Wilson, I was born in Tauranga in 1995 and I graduated from Waikato University with a degree in business management in 2017. My Facebook profile will show that I enjoy going to concerts and how much fun I have with friends. My family and friends, well they’ll tell you I live life to the fullest.
Sounds pretty normal right? Just like any other person in their 20s. What those things fail to tell you is that I was never meant to live a life like this. I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and my parents were told that I would never walk or talk. They were to take me home, love me but don’t expect much.
At 11 months old I could not even pull my head up off the ground or rollover. I couldn’t play with toys as my hands could not hold anything. I cried constantly as I was in so much pain all the time and was only comfortable in water or standing up.
My parents started me on an intense therapy programme, the aim of it was to train new brain cells to take over the functions of the old ones that died at birth. I worked 4 hours per day, 6 days a week and had 30 volunteers come to my house each week. Fortunately, my intellectual cells were not affected, however close friends and family may disagree.
We continued this until I was six years old putting a massive amount of strain on my family but my parents were determined to help me so this is what had to be done. Over these six years, especially in the first few, life wasn’t easy. My mother didn’t just hit rock bottom, she lived there, and my father did the only thing he knew how to, went to work. However, he was also there to support mum when he needed to.
When he left in the morning for work I would be screaming as usual and mum would be crying, pleading with him not to leave her in this situation for the day and he would come home to the same thing, more screaming and crying. They didn’t know whether they were doing the right thing either by doing the therapy and had no idea of any outcomes to expect. I am sure this was one of the lowest points for our family and luckily, I have minimal memory of these early years of my life.
As the years passed and the therapy continued things became easier for our family and I was able to do more and more. Eventually, by the age of six I started school and I was just able to walk but very unsteadily. My teacher aide continued therapy at school and as the years went by I became stronger and by about the age of eight or nine, I was able to run, play sports, and participate in mainstream classrooms and activities just like my peers. The determination of my mum and dad and also my own, along with the guidance of neurodevelopmental therapist Ian Hunter made all this possible.
From then on struggles in life still continued, mainly around bullying. Once I got to the age where I realised that I was different I found it really hard to fit in with my peers. My perceptions changed in how I saw myself. I had low self-confidence and was always cautious of what people thought of me,
so I wouldn’t take part in activities that I usually would have. I found it the hardest at College stage as students are much more aware of their social image and are easily caught up in what others think of them. It can also be seen as a risk for students to be associated with someone like me. I didn’t fit in and was bullied frequently. It got to the point where I would sit alone at lunchtimes and try my best to hide. One of the ways I got through this rough patch of my life was to start playing competitive sport. I competed for Paralympics New Zealand’s development squad overseas where I represented New Zealand in athletics and table tennis. This was a way of escaping the troubles at school, because of the travel I would often get quite a bit of time away. Being a part of the squad made me feel more accepted as being around other people with disabilities, there was no judgment, and all of us had similar circumstances. We’re all seen as an individual and not as our disability.
Through sport I was introduced to a group of people who now call themselves the Trillian Trek, whose goals are to better the lives of underprivileged and disadvantaged New Zealand children.
I became a recipient of a grant fundraised by them which helped towards the travel costs of table tennis. I also received a mentor named Mark Hellyer who was part of fundraising for the Trillian Trek. He opened up new doors in life and was always there when I needed support or advice. He got me involved in his fundraising team who became the mates I didn’t have at school. Mark was dedicated to helping me achieve my goals, even if it meant sacrificing his own valuable time and resources.
When I was looking at career pathways for when I was finished with school, I ended up choosing a 4 year Business Management Degree in 2013. This meant that I would not be able to continue competing in table tennis. Due to this decision, I was of the understanding that the support from the Trillian Trek also had to stop. The financial support did stop but Mark Hellyer continued to support me by keeping me involved in the Trillian Trek which is a car rally which travels long distances fundraising for Kiwi kids, distributing grants and putting smiles on the faces of thousands.
The biggest thing that came out the scholarship and by far outweighs the financial contribution was the acceptance and inclusion I felt when I was introduced to this event. The Trillian Trek family past no judgement and encouraged me to be myself. They have also challenged me and help me grow as a person. In more recent years I have found myself in an ambassador role, this involves public speaking to potential sponsors and at corporate fundraising events about what being a recipient of this event has done for me, and what we continue to do for the community and throughout New Zealand. I have also spoken to large groups of children at the schools that we visit mainly around overcoming challenges and adversity.
Words cannot describe how much I love being involved in the Trillian Trek and being able to give back to an organisation that has given me so much. I now have my own team and a fire engine which we use to fundraise and participate in this event.
The Brain Injured Children Trust has allowed me to follow my dreams and achieve my goals. Whether it was contributing towards school trips or ones for Paralympics or assisting me with extra university costs because of my disability. I was able to participate in the community like everybody else which has been extremely valuable. I am now a leader of a committee on the trust as we try and provide families with access to therapies just like I did as a child. We are here to support families who have a desire to take up a therapy program to hopefully make the journey a bit easier than it was with my family who did it on our own. But above all, we want to let others know, who find themselves in a similar situation as my mum and dad did back on 18 June 1995, that there is hope and if you are willing to work hard, extremely hard, then anything is possible.
My most recent achievements include moving out of home to a different city. I am living in a two-bedroom apartment in Auckland city which happens to be right next door to my work. At the beginning of 2019, I gained a position with one of the biggest finance companies in New Zealand and Australia. This company values me and do not see me as disabled but instead as a fellow colleague. I feel an amazing sense of belonging and my input is always called upon and respected.
I may lead what some might call a normal life now, but this would not be possible without the intense therapy, determination and support of the Brain Injured Children Trust. I am incredibly thankful to the trust and hope to see many other families achieve their dreams by providing the right tools to make the hard work a little bit easier.
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