Thousands of people will take part in the Sydney Marathon this month – but two local men are doing it with a point of difference.
Brothers-in-law, Steve Millar and Phil Moon are heading across the ditch to take part in this year’s half marathon event – but it will be no ordinary race.
On April 16 2016 – aged just 40 – Steve suffered an extremely rare medical event, leaving him paralysed on the right side of his body and with limited verbal communication although he remains fully present in understanding what is going on in conversations.
Steve’s wife, Tina recalls the events of that day like it was yesterday.
“Steve was out on a job at work when he started to feel unwell. He phoned his dispatcher but what Steve was saying and what the dispatcher was hearing were two completely different things.”
Thanks to GPS tracking in Steve’s vehicle, the dispatcher was able to send an ambulance to Steve’s aid who had fallen unconscious.
He was rushed to Auckland City Hospital and into a six-hour surgery where it was revealed he had suffered an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
An AVM occurs when a tangle of blood vessels in the brain – or on its surface bypasses normal brain tissue and directly diverts blood from the arteries to the veins – essentially causing a bleed on the brain.
AVMs are thought to occur in less than one per cent of the general population.
Steve was put into an induced coma for 2-3 days to help reduce the swelling on his brain.
“It was scary,” recalled Tina. “He was on life support machines, his head was bandaged up, there was tubes and bits everywhere.”
As Steve slowly progressed, he was transferred from ICU to the critical care unit before being transferred to Middlemore Hospital where he spent the next seven months.
After finally arriving home on January 4 2017, brother-in-law Phil was struck by a brainwave.
“[Coming home from hospital is] obviously a really big adjustment. After a period of time you get into a routine and it’s a little bit like groundhog day, going from bed to lounge, bed to lounge,” he said.
“Steve was always pretty active – [he’d] take his mountain bike to Woodhill [forest], go fishing. He doesn’t like sitting still for long.
“I’m quite active myself… and I sort of thought ‘why does this have to be it? Why can’t we do something?’
“The original idea was to do the Auckland Marathon,” said Phil. “I asked Steve if he was keen and he lit up like a bloody Christmas tree.”
But after discovering the Auckland Marathon didn’t allow wheel chairs, it was back to the drawing board. After some more research, they settled on Sydney.
It’s been far from an easy process – in fact the beginning was “continual dead ends,” said Phil.
But as word spread, offers of help began flooding in. Disability sports organisation ParaFed donated a retired Paralympics wheelchair that an engineer in Hamilton helped to modify to Steve’s needs.
The result is a nifty little contraption- Steve drives with his feet and controls the brakes while Phil pushes it from behind.
The pair trains frequently – both in the chair and at the gym where Steve has become something of a local celebrity.
Despite the seemingly never-ending roadblocks, Steve and Phil – and the huge support crew behind them – refuse to give up.
“The nicest thing is this whole journey and that Steve has something to look forward to. Life doesn’t have to be about sitting in a lounge and a bedroom and every time Steve gets in that chair – he’s an expert in steering it – he just lights up.
“It’s neat to have that one thing everyone can share in. Steve really enjoys it – he doesn’t seem to care if it’s raining. I say ‘no we can’t go, it’s raining’ and he says ‘well why not?’
That quip earns a cheeky smile from Steve.
Phil fights back emotion as he speaks of their goal to see Steve walk with assistance the final few metres of the course.
“Anything’s possible really.
“The thought of crossing the finish line in Sydney is pretty special – it’s just a matter of what next.”
- Find out more about Steve’s journey at https://millars-path.com
- Steve requires ongoing physical therapy to help him walk again – to donate go to https://givealittle.co.nz/millarsmarathon