There are few people more determined or motivated than Tai Martin-Page.
Talking animatedly with staff and patients as he navigates his wheelchair through an Adelaide rehabilitation facility, the 27-year-old’s optimism is contagious.
You have to remind yourself that he’s facing the toughest battle of his life.
The footballer from Laura, in South Australia’s mid-north, was left paralysed after a sickening on-field collision in Darwin in January.
He dislocated his vertebrae in two places and was flown to Perth for emergency spinal surgery.
When he awoke, Martin-Page could no longer move his legs or arms.
The talented ruckman, an integral part of the Darwin Buffaloes, suddenly faced a very uncertain future.
“I remember the flash of the hit and then I remember being on my back looking up at the sky.”
After building up strength and gaining some movement in his arms, he was finally brought home.
Martin-Page spent time at the Royal Adelaide Hospital before being taken to the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre in the city’s north.
Now, a little over two months since the clash, the 27-year-old is thriving in his rehabiliation program.
“He’s a fit young man and he’s very keen,” Associate Professor Ruth Marshall said.
“We have other young patients in the centre and they almost go into competition with each other.”
A team of highly trained professionals is taking him through daily gym sessions and physiotherapy, building his upper body strength and increasing his independence.
“He was chomping at the bit to get out of the powered wheelchair and into the manual wheelchair,” Professor Marshall said.
“The motivation that got him through his football is the same motivation that will help him through his rehabilitation and beyond.”
Martin-Page says he has been blown away with the outpouring of support he’s received, with about $110,000 being raised online to help with medical costs.
“It is quite overwhelming,” he said.
“People I have never met or heard of have sort of sent messages of support or donations.”
Martin-Page will likely remain at the Hampstead facility until June, and doctors agree it will be some time before they know his long-term prognosis.
But they’re confident it isn’t the end of his sporting career.
“He’s a really fit young man who has enjoyed sport and there’s no reason why he cannot do that again,” Professor Marshall said.
Martin-Page isn’t going to let injury stand in the way of being there for a Buffaloes premiership.
He is flying up to Darwin this weekend to cheer from the sidelines.
His message to team mates? “Go Buffaloes, shuffle up!”