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Jack Anderson's emotional homecoming

Former Merrigum footballer Jack Anderson is back in Echuca after becoming a quadriplegic and being hospitalised in Melbourne since 2011.

ZACH HOPE February 21, 2013 4:50am

Jack Anderson, with partner Trish Bishop.


It has taken nearly 19 months of rehabilitation dotted with medical setbacks, frustration, elation and more than a few moments of despair, but Jack Anderson is finally back home in Echuca.

He returned from the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre at the end of last month, Trish Bishop, his partner of about six years, tailing the ambulance at a tow rope’s distance in case the driver dared turn around.

There had already been too many false starts to take any chances, she explains.

Trish has made the journey to and from the Talbot too many times to remember since a horrific football injury in July 2011 left Jack, 55, paralysed from the neck down.

People would tell her to stay home more; that Jack was okay and being looked after, but that did not sit well.

‘‘I had to be there,’’ she says.

‘‘The stress is greater not being there.’’

That journey home was the last, and as they sit in Jack’s new long-term home at Glanville Village, the relief is evident.

‘‘Just getting home again, to see them (family and friends) on regular basis. It is relief,’’ Jack says.

‘‘It’s a relief knowing that Trish doesn’t have to travel anymore.’’

Staff had decorated the room with Carlton coloured balloons, a Carlton flag and a note: ‘‘Hi Jack, welcome to Glanville, we are thrilled to have you join our family.’’

Leaving the Talbot was a triumph, but it also meant saying goodbye to those who had treated him, comforted him, worn the brunt of his frustrations and who had ultimately become family.

He says the doctors wore it, the psychologists wore it and the nurses wore it, but would reply with simple answers and a smile.

‘‘I’ll give them that, they knew what they were on about,’’ he says.

‘‘When I left, the nurses were in tears, the unit manager was in tears. Me being the elder statesman and the oldest inmate, it was very emotional. No two ways about it, there were a lot of tears that day.’’

Jack moves well on his wheelchair, purchased for $17,000 from fundraising efforts. Asked if he’s tested its top speed, he grins: ‘‘Oh yeah.’’

Next on the wishlist is a special van that the pair hopes can transport Jack around town and to the occasional Merrigum football game.

They say none of the equipment would have been possible if not for the tireless efforts of Merrigum Football Club and the many others who have taken on his cause and offered financial and moral support.

‘‘All the phone calls, all the well wishes, all the generous donations. I’d just like to publicly thank everyone,’’ he says.

He took his first ‘‘stroll’’ down Ogilvie Ave since the incident soon after he returned.

The surrounds were familiar — the houses, trees, the landscape — but it was another world.

The man who last travelled that footpath was strong, tall and tough as nails. He was a handyman and fit as a fiddle.

Today’s Jack is still tough, probably tougher than he ever was as a 600-game footballer, but the physical specimen is not.

For all the relief of getting home, there are certain realities that Jack is still coming to terms with.

‘‘My world and everyone’s world has been turned upside down,’’ he says.

‘‘...I used to walk there with my head held high, now you’re at ground level. It’s a different view.

‘‘It puts a lot of things in perspective. It makes your eyes wide.

‘‘(But) you’ve got to be strong. If it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger.’’

There is not a day that passes he does not think about the accident.

Jack received what was a reportedly innocuous bump on the half-back flank at Merrigum Recreation Reserve during Merrigum reserves’ round 14 clash against Lancaster on July 16, 2011.

He was airlifted to hospital and the game was abandoned.

No-one knows exactly how he sustained such serious spinal injuries.

‘‘It does overwhelm me; it haunts me,’’ he says.

‘‘I don’t know what happened, all these 101 possibilities. It will never leave me, it’s just one of those scenarios.

‘‘It’s hard to grasp and accept, but I’ve got to.’’

Jack’s body spasms midway through the Riverine Herald’s visit. His legs twitch and his arms shake violently.

Trish calmly lays one hand on his arm and another on his stomach until the movement eases.

She has been his constant companion, his rock, his occasional verbal punching bag; and he, on occasions, has been hers.

Jack says she is the real hero. It the one time in the interview he has to compose himself.

‘‘She could have pretty easily packed her bags, but true to her character she stuck it out,’’ he says.

‘‘I am grateful for that.’’

She replies: ‘‘It wasn’t hard. He’s the special one. He’s the one going through it.’’

She recites the words on a plaque she bought for Jack.

‘‘To love someone deeply gives you courage; to be loved deeply gives you strength.’’

She says to Jack: ‘‘It’s what we’ve done isn’t it.’’

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