by Tim Clarke
Saturday, 1 July 2017
Miracle man who feared he would not walk is ready for the world’s highest peaks.
For several horrible moments, Steve Plain did not know if he would ever walk again.
Lying in the early morning Cottesloe surf, his body numb and his brain in shock, the only security he could cling to was his self-belief and the kindness and concern in the eyes of Gary and Lara Matier.
As they prepared for a beach carnival on that December day in 2014, the father and daughter surf lifesaving duo discovered Steve’s prone frame after he was dumped by a wave.
If not for their eagle eyes, and expertise, Mr Plain knows he could now be in a wheelchair, or worse.
Instead, the 35-year-old is preparing for one of the most challenging feats a human can undertake — climbing the seven highest peaks on the world’s seven continents, ending with an ascent of Mt Everest.
The engineer and mountaineer aims to break the world record for reaching those summits in the shortest amount of time and raise awareness and funds for surf lifesaving and spinal injury research, which, combined, helped to save his life.
“At first you think and hope it won’t be too bad, that it’s just a bit of knock, I can’t have broken my neck,” Mr Plain said.
“I had convinced myself that it was just maybe a bit of bruising, and that I’ll get up and walk out that afternoon.
“In hindsight, that was possibly a little bit optimistic.”
Just a bit. A devastating diagnosis was made once he arrived at hospital — a Hangman’s Fracture. Unstable breaks to the C2, C3 and C7 vertebrae, a ruptured disc, a contorted spinal cord, and a dissected artery — the injury that killed test cricketer Phillip Hughes.
Terrifying no doubt, but also a turning point.
“Lying in that hospital staring at the ceiling with the thought that I may not be able to walk again and do some of the things I wanted to do, I decided right there to give myself some focus in the rehab process,” Mr Plain said.
Inspiring him was Mt Aspiring, a 3033m peak on New Zealand’s South Island. Within 11 months of his Cottesloe catastrophe, four of those spent in a halo brace, Mr Plain was on top of that mountain.
And looking on from afar, with admiration and pride, were Gary and Lara Matier.
Lara was just 14 when her surf lifesaving skills, honed as a member of the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving club, were put to the ultimate test on that December morning.
“It definitely changes you, lets you see it could happen to anyone, that you need to take caution in what you do . . . and respect all the people who come down here to watch the beach, and all the lifeguards and lifesavers,” Lara said.
Mr Matier, who has been involved in surf lifesaving since the 1980s, could not have been prouder of his daughter’s reaction on the day.
Steve spent 4 months in a halo brace after his accident
Now, having nurtured a friendship with those who saved him, Mr Plain intends to give something back.
After practice runs in the Andes and the Himalayas, he intends to take on the Seven Summits next year, starting with the 4897m Vinson Massif in Antarctica and finishing on top of Everest. His plan is to break the world record of 132 days to conquer them all.
Along the way he will tell the world how Lara and Mr Matier’s surf lifesaving training saved his life. He also wants to raise money for Spinal Cure Australia’s Project Edge, a groundbreaking research initiative investigating the possibility of “curing” those with spinal cord injuries to restore function.
“The greater the challenge, the greater the obstacle, the greater the satisfaction in overcoming it,” Mr Plain said.