For Samantha Rokov, opening the letter notifying her that her late husband was being awarded for his final act of bravery, was bittersweet.
“We would love to have our husband, father, son back, but to be remembered, that means a lot to us,” she said.
“Every single day we’re proud of him, that will never, ever fade.”
Antonio Rokov has been posthumously honoured with the Star of Courage in the latest round of Australian Bravery Awards for his efforts to save the life of Elijah Arranz during a tandem skydiving accident in 2015.
On November 21, the pair departed for a tandem skydive at Goulburn in near perfect conditions, but a freak wind gust caused their parachute to collapse as they began their descent, sending them plummeting towards the ground.
The former Special Forces commando wrapped himself around his 14-year-old student, taking the brunt of the impact, a move that saved the teenager’s life, and cost him his own.
“He would have done everything that he possibly could have to make sure that he was OK and calm,” Mrs Rokov said.
“I can almost hear what he would have been saying to him, ‘you’ll be right mate,’ I can just hear it.”
Mr Rokov was an experienced skydiving instructor at Adrenaline Skydive in Goulburn and served more than two decades in the Australian Army.
Mrs Rokov said her husband died doing what he loved.
“Everywhere he went, if he had the opportunity, he’d be skydiving,” she said.
“I think he loved seeing other people enjoying themselves too, he really enjoyed making it fun for them, making it an experience.”
Elijah Arranz does not remember those fateful moments, but said he owed his life to Rokov.
“If it wasn’t for his brave act, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
“He will be remembered by me as a hero for eternity.”
The Year 11 student suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in the accident, and has worked hard to regain the ability to walk and talk.
He now has his sights set on something even bigger.
“In the future, I want to be a marathon runner,” he said.
“Even though I’m not in the best situation, there’s people out there who are in a worse situation than me.”
‘He’s part of the family now’
Despite her loss, Mrs Rokov said Elijah’s strength and determination brought her solace.
“It means a lot to us that Tony’s sacrifice has given him the best chance,” she said.
“Just knowing that he goes from strength to strength every day, just to know, it wasn’t in vain.
“It’s almost like he’s part of the family now, which is lovely, it’s special.”
Rokov is one of just 170 people to be awarded the Star of Courage since 1975.
This year, he shares the recognition with Tori Johnson, who was honoured for his extraordinary bravery during Sydney’s Lindt Cafe siege in 2014.
For the 16 hours Mr Johnson was held captive on December 15 and 16, he relayed information to police and negotiators, calmly engaged with the gunman, and despite having opportunities to escape, remained by the side of an elderly hostage.
He was executed by Man Haron Monis shortly after 2:00am on December 16, triggering a police shootout with the terrorist when they stormed the cafe.
‘Brave acts mean they’re no longer with us’
The Australian Bravery Awards recognise extraordinary acts of courage by individuals and are announced twice a year.
In a statement, Governor General Peter Cosgrove praised the recipients for their selflessness.
“To the Australians being honoured today, I offer my warmest congratulations and express my sincere gratitude for your contribution to our nation,” Mr Cosgrove said.
“Sadly, there are those whose brave acts mean they are no longer with us.
“To their families, I express the nation’s sadness at your loss but pride in your loved one’s actions.”
This year’s honourees are expected to receive their awards at investiture ceremonies around the country in the coming months.