Disabled surfer Barney Miller

Recovering after an accident isn't easy. This is the story of  how Barney Miller recovered after his, learned how to breathe and stand on his own, and became a quadriplegic World Adaptive Surf Champion. 

At 19-years-old, Barney Miller was told he’d never breathe on his own again. He was told he’d never use his arm again; never stand; never swim; never surf.

He has done it all.

Barney is now spreading a message: “Things are going to happen to you. You’re going to have challenges — physical, mental, whatever — but you have the power inside you to overcome anything.”

A story of recovery

Barney has spent 20 years living as a C6 quadriplegic after the car he was a passenger in lost control and hit a tree, stripping him of the physical capacity to live life the way he knew it.

But it’s Barney’s mental capacity that gave him a new life — a life that has more challenges, but also more rewards.

“Getting to where I am now hasn’t been easy. I faced some dark times. I lost my way a bit. But it’s never too late to change,” says Barney.

“Despite what others say, don’t let someone else’s opinion, whether it’s personal or professional, lead your life.”

Barney’s recovery was nearly derailed by opinions when doctor after doctor gave him the same prognosis.

“Doctors, nurses, physios — they all told me there was no way to regain movement below my chest down to the lower limbs, the triceps, abs and hands,” says Barney.

“‘They will never recover’ are words that I heard over and over again. These are words that stick with people forever and can kill all hope and any chance of recovery.

“Luckily for me, I’d already bucked the statistics by teaching myself to breathe without a ventilator. I knew I just needed to cling to that and remain focussed.”

Finding love after the accident

But after a while, all those words and dashed hopes start to seep into the subconscious.

“It gets you down. What I needed was a slim chance, a small bit of hope,” says Barney.

“I needed to find somebody who could look beyond the medical diagnosis and see me for all I could be.”

That ‘somebody’ came in the form of a beautiful musician named Kate (Kate also goes by Kada). Together they discovered therapies and new ways of life that connected the mind with the body and opened up a world of possibilities.

And so, 10 years after his accident, despite doctors telling him that any movement he didn’t have back two-years post injury would be lost forever, Barney started his recovery again — but this time his motivation was greater than ever.

“When I was a kid, my dream was to win a world surfing title. After my accident, I thought that dream was no longer possible,” he said.

“But luckily for me, I have amazing friends who got me back in the ocean. I eventually won the Australian Adaptive Surf Championships and then I turned my attention to the world title.

“Plus, I wanted to ask Kate to marry me on bended knee and dance at our wedding — so I had a lot of motivation to get my body moving. Nothing was going to get in my way.”

Surfing as a quadriplegic 

In 2015, Barney stood to give his vows and danced with his beautiful wife at their wedding. In 2017 he became the World Adaptive Surf Champion.

“Winning that championship is even sweeter than if my life had panned out the way I’d originally planned,” says Barney.

“So much hard work went into it. I just put myself out there. Putting yourself out there, despite the fear, is worth it.”

Barney Miller is a 2 time National Adaptive Surfing Champion. In 2017 he became the ISA World Adaptive Surf Champion too.

Barney credits his mother for his never-give-up attitude, resilience and mental strength that has seen him push through everything life has thrown at him.

“I worked out early the power of the mind,” says Barney.

“At my 21st birthday I told my family and friends that if your mind can do it, your body can. I believe that now more than ever.

“It’s a message I’m passionate about spreading and Kate and I have been talking to kids in schools to hopefully give them some tips and inspiration.”

How to overcome your disability 

So how does Barney use his mind to overcome adversity?

“Find something to focus on and set goals — no matter how small,” he says.

“Be grateful so that even in the darkest times you can still find the good things no matter how bad the situation is.

“Learn to celebrate the wins. Any little things - whether it’s in your therapy, your day-to-day life, in your mind or attitude in general - every little achievement is something that fuels the fire to overcome what you’ve been dealt.

“Put in the hard work, surround yourself with good people, take control of your mind and stay motivated. If you do these things — you can change the course of your life.”

Barney earned the title of Feros Hero for epitomising the ‘grow bold’ ethos of Feros Care and smashing stereotypes about disability.

He has a simple — but powerful — message for others living with challenges.

“Don’t let your disability define you; let it drive you,” he says.

“Celebrate your uniqueness. Turn it into your strength. It will be worth the ride.”

Click here to read the story of Angela, one of our amazing Local Area Coordinators with the NDIS. 

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