CAMERON Carr doesn’t sound tough.
He’s softly spoken, painting his words with a gentle smile that would make any mum proud.
His handshake won’t cut the circulation to your fingers. To those who don’t know him, he can seem shy.
But Cameron Carr is one of the toughest blokes in Brisbane.
Not that he’ll tell you that. You’ll work it out from his life story.
Earlier this week, Cameron was selected for the Rio Paralympic Games as part of Australia’s wheelchair rugby team.
The sport is also known as “Murderball” because of the ferocity of the physical clashes.
The bandage on Cameron’s left middle finger is the result of a compound fracture of his left middle finger.
He suffered it in a game against Japan and asked for it to be taped up so he could return to the court.
Fortunately, it will heal in time for his third Paralympic Games appearance.
Cameron was co-captain of the Steelers in 2012, when they won Australia’s first Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair rugby.
In September, he’s going back to the Paralympics with a different focus.
Seven weeks ago, Cameron’s wife Kim gave birth to twin girls Asha and Amelie.
Their son Eli is getting ready to start school at Saints Peter and Paul’s, Bulimba, in 2017.
Cameron, who was raised Catholic, wanted Catholic schooling for his children because of the values that underpin the teaching.
They’re values that helped to drive Cameron through a journey that has tested every bit of his mental strength.
Twenty years ago, Cameron was set for a professional rugby league career.
He had been signed by the Sydney Roosters, who saw in Cameron some of the qualities that enabled his father Norm to play in Queensland’s first State of Origin game in 1980.
Cameron remembers clearly his father leading Souths to the 1985 Brisbane Rugby League premiership, playing under coach Wayne Bennett in a team that overcame Wynnum Manly legends including Wally Lewis and Gene Miles.
Cameron was to join the Roosters in 1997, before the phone call that changed the course of his life.
“One Saturday morning, I was ready to drive down to Sydney. But the Roosters rang to say that the house they had organised for me wasn’t ready so I should hold off in Brisbane for another two weeks,” Cameron said.
“The following Saturday, I was at a party at Sunnybank Hills. We were going home and I got into a cab and I was sitting in there for a bit and no one else came out.
“I asked the cabbie to wait and I went back into the party to check what everyone else was doing. They said they were going to drive and I could go with them.
“I jumped into a car with one of the guys. I was in the back seat behind the passenger. It was a small car and my head was almost touching the roof.
“We only had a five-minute drive. It wasn’t far. But the driver fell asleep and veered to the right, hit a guard rail and went into a gully. The roof hit the back of my head and snapped my head forward.
“I woke up a day or two later and my neck was fused.”
Cameron was told he would probably never walk again.
“I didn’t grasp the enormity of what had happened to me. I just thought that I would get better and things would be fine. But, as the weeks went on, it started hitting me,” Cameron said.
“Once I got out of the hospital bubble and I was back at home, it started to really hit me. You’re not the person you want to be and therefore you’re not the son, brother or friend you want to be.
“I struggled for a few years. I wanted that life that I had and I couldn’t see anything else.
“The key is to realise that what has happened isn’t life-ending – it’s life-changing. But I couldn’t see it as anything except life-ending.
“I wouldn’t even go to the shop to get groceries. My mum (Pauline) and Dad took me out one night because they wanted me to try wheelchair rugby. I refused to get out of the car.”
It would take a few years for the spark that changed Cameron’s life again. And it came from the most unlikely of places when he was asked to coach his brother Callum’s junior rugby league team.
“They needed a coach and they asked me. I convinced a mate of mine and a cousin to come and help out. It would be the three of us,” Cameron said.
“I had the idea that I could coach the team from my car. Not sure why I thought that would work but the kids were on to it straight away.
“One of the kids was about 12 and he said straight to me: ‘This isn’t going to work – get out of the car’. I did. And I coached that team for three years.
“It really started to turn me around. Thank God for that young bloke saying what he did.”
Cameron decided to get back into sport, so he went to learn more about wheelchair rugby. And, this time, he got out of the car.
He’s now one of the veterans in a team of blokes with inspirational stories.
There’s Chris Bond – who is a partner in the Murderball Group that Cameron has set up to inspire corporate leaders, giving them a taste of life in a wheelchair.
Chris was an apprentice chef when he fell ill with a flesh-eating bacterial infection. Unbeknown to Chris, he also had leukaemia so his immune system was broken.
He emerged from hospital with his legs amputated below the knee along with his left hand, and all but one finger on his right hand.
Ryley Batt was born without legs.
Naz Erdem suffered a diving accident during a day at the beach.
The group has helped to drive the Steelers to the top of wheelchair rugby, claiming Australia’s first world title.
But these Paralympics will again be tough, with Cameron rating at least five countries as genuine gold medal chances.
“It’s becoming more competitive each time we have a major tournament,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easy to win that gold medal again but it’s going to be fun.”
By Michael Crutcher