By MONIQUE KUZEFF
THREE months ago Dave Jacka, the world’s first quadriplegic to fly solo around Australia, set-off to tackle the elements of the Murray River on his Paddle Wheel Murray River Expedition.
On 28 May, Jacka looked back on such a great feat as he became the world’s first quadriplegic to paddle the 2225km length of the Murray from Lake Hume, NSW, to the sea in Goolwa, SA.
But this was not accomplished without great challenges.
When he was just 19 years old, Jacka was involved in a motorbike accident that left him a quadriplegic.
Unable to regulate his body temperature, Jacka has no movement from his armpits down and only uses about six per cent of his motor functions.
Jacka said regulating his body temperature was one of the most difficult challenges he faced during his expedition.
“The heat was the biggest challenge; it absolutely pushed me to absolute limits,” Jacka said.
“The first two and a half weeks were a nightmare because I can’t control my body temperature and there was extreme heat.
“It didn’t drop under 30 degrees for about 18 days, so I could only paddle in the morning until it got too hot.
“This meant I could only do shorter distances which impacted on my whole journey – I wouldn’t want to experience those temperatures again.”
But Jacka was thrilled to have finally completed his mission to paddle the length of the Murray River, saying it proved to be a “very mixed experience” that was “tiring, hard but exhilarating at times”.
“It was a fantastic experience, and certainly one of the toughest things I’ve ever done both physically and mentally,” he said.
“I achieved far more than I thought I could on this journey.
“It opened my eyes to where my limitations were, and I exceeded all the limitations I thought I had before undertaking this journey.”
During the expedition, Jacka faced another obstacle when a blister on his hand became infected after two months in, with only about 500 kilometres to complete. His hand swelled up and it became extremely painful for him to paddle.
“There were moments I became concerned that if it didn’t heal and got worse, it would stop me from completing the trip. It was the constant grind that did it.
“But I prevailed because it is only when you really push yourself that you find out what you can truly achieve.”
Jacka thanked the team who went on the expedition with them, saying it was the volunteers and people he met along the way that were the biggest highlight.
“There were a lot of times where I felt extremely fortunate to be able to paddle down the Murray River with the support from the team.
“The scenery is always changing from dry to wet and land to cliffs and the sunrise and sunsets are absolutely spectacular – I never got sick of that.”
As also being the world’s first quadriplegic to fly solo around Australia, the Murray River expedition was just another great challenge he set out to do to prove the potential of those with disabilities and to encourage people to challenge themselves.