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Wade Bennett

Wade Bennett- Walking on water and other miracles ‘ from the  2010 Southern 80 Program

Wade Bennett and his family have been involved with the Southern 80 since 1981, when Wade (9), having skied since the age of 4, skied with his sister Nicole (11) in their first ever ski race, in Social Sub Juniors. They placed 3rd after their Dad Terry’s boat ‘Fleetwood’ ran out of fuel on the last corner. Luckily a kind soul on the river bank had a jerry can of fuel and they got Fleetwood fired up again to record a finish, much to the delight of spectators at the finish line.

In the years following, both Wade and Nicole skied in river races in various age and motor divisions, whilst their Dad took on the job of the Chief starter of the great race.

Terry implemented the ‘rolling start’ starting method that has been adopted Oz wide as the standard for long course racing. He will be starting all boats again this Southern 80, bringing his involvement to around 20 years in the job.

Wade rose thru the ranks of the top ski racers in Australia, after following Nicole onto the Victorian ski racing circuit at the age of 16. He developed both the fitness and skills to help him progress rapidly in the sport. Eventually Wade was to rise to become the dominant ski racer in Victoria. Skiing almost every weekend at different racing venues both at home and interstate, he skied in up to 10 races a day, winning the majority of them.

Moving into the Elite level, Wade was invited to ski behind Graeme Ritchie’s mighty new super boat ‘God’s Gift’. It was a massive development, using the latest and greatest technologies, the likes of which had never been seen raced before, much less made adaptable to boat racing as well.

Wade accepted Graeme’s offer to ski behind the boat, and in its first river race ever, the 1991 Southern 80, Wade teamed up with Rory Brown. In the Baker’s Blitz, they were absolutely flying down the course only to have lady luck dessert them. Waving to Dennis Rowbottom and his family @ Wharparilla Drive, Graeme accidentally pulled the kill switch out whilst at full noise. Getting mobile again, they took off just as both Solid Gold and Minimum Fuss were passing both them, and each other, right next to them. Solid Gold hit God’s Gift’s starting wave and leapt 12 feet into the air at full noise, the propeller spinning right next to Wade’s head !

The sight of 3 Super Class boats, all running side by side, at full throttle, in this winding, narrow part of the course, was ski racing heaven for both spectators and crews! People scrambled up out of the water at Merool Beach, realising how much room was going to be needed to squeeze past them AND take the corner as they came screaming up the river side by side, each jockeying for the lead position. Eventually Rory was forced to throw his handles as he was skiing on the tree lined side of the river and things were getting pretty hairy!

After this race, with the retirement of Dennis Rowbottom’s Island Cooler, Wade was teamed up with Echuca hero Jamie Oliver and the legend of God’s Gift was to begin. Wade was to go on and consecutively win the Victorian Skier of the year title two years running, becoming one of the youngest skiers ever to take the title.

He also snared 4 National and 27 State Titles, 13 State Championships, numerous river and lake race outright records and also over 500+ wins on the racing circuit. Wade also represented Australia on numerous occasions. All of this, and more, in just 7 years of racing, ending suddenly, horribly, in 1995.

Wade was heavily involved in the development and racing of two of the greatest and most exciting boats ever ski raced, both God’s Gift and Mr Walker as a triple rig outboard.

‘Both were tested and fine tuned in complete secrecy, it was one of the most exciting times of evolution of ski racing boats’…’ crews in Super Class were pushing the envelope further and further, combining different hulls, motors, innovations & combinations.’

Wade made the change to Mr Walker after leaving the God’s Gift crew in 1995, as he wanted to go even harder and as the boat was now equal to God’s for speed, reliability and manoeuvrability, he felt it was time for a change.

Losing to God’s Gift by only 5 seconds at Robinvale in 1995, the crew were looking forward to reversing the result at the Mildura 100. It was to become the start of one of the worst chain of events & accidents that anyone could ever imagine occurring. Mr Walker pulled out at the half way mark of the main race, and lined up with Wade on board for the ¼ mile drag races afterwards.

The race committee was not going to run the drags any more, due to the extreme danger factor, but the program had been printed so they went ahead.
Wade easily won the 1st heat of the Outboard drags and lined up for the final. The scene was set for another display of top class ski racing and the expectant crowd was on their toes, knowing what both the boat and skier were capable of. Then it all went wrong.

Wade fell while passing the crowd at the finish line at around 180kph, sending him into a horrifying spinning motion. One of his feet came out of his race boots and as he had been knocked unconscious. Wade had no way to brace himself or control what happened to his body next, as it was quite literally torn in half.

He broke his pelvis in two places, broke his hip, fractured and dislocated his arm, tore an artery in his right leg as well as damaging the sciatic nerve. Wade’s impact and tearing also meant that his Bladder, Bowel and Intestinal area were exploded out into his wetsuit thru the subsequent abdominal & perennial tear.

Ambulance officer Robyn Doyle had unzipped his wetsuit slightly in the water, and realising what had happened, completely clamped her body around Wade’s lower body to hold it together. Wade says that she is the reason that he is still alive today. ‘..I’ve since met Robyn & it’s pretty cool to meet your guardian angel.’

Rushed to Mildura and then Royal Adelaide Hospitals Wade went into a 17 day Coma. ‘I lived in another surreal part of my consciousness the whole time, always connected by my ears to this reality. My family and friends that were in Adelaide with me were in my different situations that I moved thru mentally. I have quoted their words of support & knew about the hundreds of faxes and cards stuck up all around my ICU room. It was a really strange and amazing experience.’

Wade has still been going thru ongoing reconstructive and repair work for the almost 15 years since. He has most recently had his 52nd operation, learnt to walk again for the 3rd time, had his 8th Stomach reconstruction and had his 3rd calcium bone spur ground off his pelvis, whilst living a permanent state of pain the whole time since the accident.

‘The goal setting and pain tolerance of ski racing is a major part of my pain threshold being so high, and has helped me when going thru the most intensely painful periods, like immediately after waking from the Coma.’

Wade’s body, being torn in half, meant that he couldn’t laugh, cry, move or receive a supportive hug, due to the massive pain that ripped thru his body every time he moved even centimetres, or someone even touched his bed. ‘To not be able to cry was probably the hardest part, at age 23, with every single thing in my life gone so suddenly.’

He used the frustration of his injuries positively when he could finally move and stand up again months later. He had set himself not only the goal of walking again with a now paralysed lower right leg, but even more amazing, he wanted to get strong enough to ski race again.

Not being ‘waterproof’ for 20 months due to constant open wounds from operations, Wade finally got to swim again in 1997. ‘It was an emotional experience to be in the water again.’

Wade set his sights on skiing in the 1998 Southern 80.

Stopping his training for even more operations only strengthened the champ’s resolve to cross the Southern 80 finish line. Turning the anger, frustration & trauma into positive energy and fuelling the fire within, he says that ‘symbolically, the finish line meant a line that could be crossed to put a lot of really bad memories behind me.’ He skied in Disabled and not only won the class, but took an amazing 40 seconds off Bushy Brown’s record. It still stands today and he is skiing in the same class this weekend ‘ try and give the time from ’98 a good nudge.’

Wade was honoured for his survival from such catastrophic injuries and his brave comeback, with the opportunity to run with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch near his home in Noosa Heads. His family and friends were there to share in this incredible experience closely with him.

He was then honoured with pride of place at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, leading the Australian team into Stadium Australia, for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as the National Placard Bearer.

Wade had had ambitions of competing for a gold medal in the Triathlon when he had his 1995 accident. Wade had just 4 ski races left, before crossing over to the sport when his accident occurred.

SOCOG decided that his bravery and skiing achievements had earned him a place in the Aussie team and that he should be given the chance to still experience the Opening and Closing Ceremonies with the other athletes. More incredibly, he was to lead them, embodying the spirit so often identified with sporting endeavor.
Whilst there, Wade was given a private tour of the Athlete’s Village, meeting heaps of the top world athletes past and present, touring the massive media centre, he had his own press conference pre Opening Ceremony, witnessed the naming of Andrew Gaze as the Aussie Flag Bearer and met everyone from PM John Howard down, who he got to scull a beer! Wade also enjoyed the fun & laughs with the 14000 athletes waiting for the Opening Ceremony Parade of Nations in the Super Dome.
Finally, Wade escorted Ian Thorpe and the Flag Bearers of the World into the Closing Ceremony, in Stadium Australia.

‘It was an amazing experience that, as a skier growing up in the bush, or as a disabled or extreme athlete, I never imagined I would have, especially with the constant horrors of the 5 years prior.’

‘The incredible roar of pure joy and pride that erupted when Australia’s arrival was announced in the Opening Ceremony was something that will live with me forever. It felt like my world had finally balanced up from the extremities of loss & sorrow to extreme joy.’

‘I got to walk down the hundred metre track of an Australian Olympic Games, in the year 2000, leading the Aussie team! It was just so incredible! For a moment in time I got to stand on top of the World!’

‘I was symbolically there to represent Disabled & Extreme athletes and all world beating Aussie athletes from other sports that were not able to compete at the Games. ’
Since then Wade has compete as a Disabled Sprinter in Sydney in 2002, winning 3 gold medals and setting two games records, in the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

In November of 2009 Wade strapped on a ski for the 1st time in 12 years at the Sydney Bridge to Bridge, setting a new record in Disabled and coming in 21st Outright behind ‘Chief’. This was after having been forced medically to lie on his back for around 1 & ½ years and learning to walk again less than a year before skiing it.

Exerpts from the 2010 Grafton Program on Wade’s successful return to ski racing last season

‘I was still getting my body moving again when Colin McQuinn, from Chief, offered me a tow in Disabled at the Sydney Bridge to Bridge. ’I had just 6 weeks to get my body going to that of an athlete again.’

The next race was at the Southern 80, once again with Team Chief.’ I was determined to smash my own record, that had stood since 1998 in Disabled, set after coming back from my Mildura accident behind ‘Mr Walker.’

‘We went really hard & shocked a few people that weren’t used to seeing those kinds of speeds in Disabled.

‘I came in 43 seconds under that record and on route I got up to 102mph, averaging 147kph.’

Wade commentated for the first time ever at the Southern 80 as well that weekend.  ‘It’s been a fun new thing to do this year at a few different majors.’

At Robinvale, behind Noizworks,  Wade’s speed was held to 96mph due to the driving rain. ‘..Col ( the driver ) and I couldn’t see a thing and it was hurting heaps to go any faster in the downpour.’

But the Mildura 100 was the big one to tackle again. He had never ski raced there again, since the massive accident that almost took his life 15 years before,

‘.. Behind Omen Racing, I got to 108mph this time around and came 12th Outright. I averaged exactly 100mph and my time was just 33 seconds behind Stinga and Blazen’. I’m so stoked to have been able to go that fast again. ‘

‘As I cant move, feel, or steer my paralyzed front foot,  I’ve had to adapt my skiing style, corner technique, handle set up and really work hard to make my upper legs strong enough to withstand the immense pressures of ski racing.’

Wade has just offered to become the Disability Services Officer for SRA, ‘..  I’m here to be able to help out other disabled ski racers with boats, facilities, personal needs, etc.’

Wade also runs the Facebook page ‘ Australian Water Ski Racing’, full of the latest updates, events pages, film clips and pictures.

Wade would like thank his sponsors, BadLad.Com, Blade Bindings, Wizard Wetsuits & Frank’s Gym Noosa.

Wade’s accident is on youtube, along with footage of God’s Gift and Mr Walker @ the 1995 Mildura 100.
*** The camera is not aimed at Wade when he falls ***

Wade\'s accident 1995 Mildura 100 Drags

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