On Wednesday, July 6, 2016, Spire hosted An Evening with Kevin Coombs, OAM at the Darebin Arts Centre in Preston. With over 120 guests, it was a resounding success and an inspirational journey through Kevin’s sporting, professional and personal life.
Kevin Coombs, OAM is a proud Wotjobaluk Elder, former Paralympian and an advocate and role model for the Australian basketball, spinal cord injury (SCI) and Indigenous communities. The evening gave us the privilege to listen to stories shared by Kevin about his lived experiences along with the stories of those close to him as they were interviewed by Professor of Indigenous Health Education at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), John Evans.
Alongside Kevin, the panelists included his eldest daughter and Indigenous community leader, Janine Coombs, and former basketballer, Campbell Message. AQA peer-support volunteer, Mario D’Cruz introduced the night, describing his experiences and affirming the power of peer-support and mentorship that is reflected in Kevin’s achievements and contributions.
The audience was blown away by the warmth and inspiration in the room as Kevin and the panel shared candid, moving and humorous stories about his exceptional life; including his sporting, professional and personal experiences and the challenges he has overcome throughout his years.
We were led on a journey through Kevin’s captivating life, beginning with his early childhood in Wemba-Wemba country around Swan Hill to the tragic loss of his mother at age five and resulting relocation to Balnarald, NSW, with his four siblings. At age twelve, Kevin’s life took another dramatic turn when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a rabbit hunting accident.
Treatment and care for people with an SCI was in those days much less sophisticated and the lack of medical advancement and understanding led to Kevin developing bedsores on his back which were so sever that he had to live on his stomach for twelve months.
When the Spinal Injuries Unit was established at the Royal Austin in Melbourne in 1957, Kevin was one of the first patients. Here, he was introduced to wheelchair sports as part of his rehabilitation. The athletic skill and determination displayed by Kevin led him to compete in five Paralympic games, including the first ever games in Rome in 1960.
As well as coaching junior wheelchair basketball teams and inspiring young athletes, Kevin’s off-the-court life has seen him make significant contributions to the Australian Indigenous community. Kevin’s community leadership includes establishing the Koori Hospital Liaison Program as part of managing the Koori Health Unit and acting as the ambassador for the National Indigenous Strategy of Literacy and Numeracy.
Kevin’s list of achievements and contributions to the SCI, Indigenous and sporting communities are numerous and significant. His commitment, generosity and determination in pushing others to triumph over their obstacles, achieve their goals and live life well has not gone unnoticed.
Kevin’s power as a role model was summed up by Campbell Message, who was coached and mentored by Kevin while competing for Victoria in the Junior National Wheelchair Basketball League. He said, “In a society that often saw people with disabilities as less, or sick, or not being able to have a normal life (job, family, etc.), role models who smashed this mould were like gold!”
Spire would like to extend a big thank you to Kevin and Janine Coombs, Professor John Evans, Campbell Message and Mario D’Cruz as well as all of those who attended. A special thank you also, to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers for generously sponsoring the event.
Also published here.