Tristan Orchard’s life changed forever when, under the influence of a synthetic drug, he jumped off a five-storey balcony at a mate’s party. This is his harrowing story.
Tristan Orchard was your average 20 year old enjoying a mate’s birthday party then he woke up in a hospital bed in a different state, wondering why he couldn’t feel his legs.
The life-changing event has set Orchard, now 23, on a new path – to represent Australia in wheelchair tennis at the Paralympics.
He came across the sport while in the spinal rehab unit in Adelaide and fell in love with it straight away.
Orchard, now living in Brisbane in order to train at the National Tennis Academy, trains every day, in between working for the NDIS.
After just a few short years in the sport Orchard is now ranked No.5 in Australia and 180 in the world.
He has his sights set on competing at the Paralympics in LA in 2028 and then in Brisbane in 2032.
Three years on, Orchard still remembers little of what unfolded at his mate’s house in March 2019.
“I took what I thought was marijuana and it turned out to be a synthetic drug,” Orchard said.
“I remember having a head spin and the next thing I remember is waking up in Adelaide in a spinal unit.”
Orchard would later be told that he had jumped off a fifth storey balcony. He broke his arm and had four burst fractures in his vertebrae.
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He was rushed to Adelaide as the Darwin hospital was not equipped to deal with the seriousness of his injuries.
“I had no brain injury which is crazy,” he said.
“I don’t remember anything. It wasn’t something I would have chosen to do. It is not like I was a big partier either.
“It was like the third time I’d taken anything and it turned out to be one of those synthetic drugs that have a bunch of chemicals in them and something just switched in my brain and I went into a psychosis.”
He was in hospital for two months and then four months in the spinal rehab unit. His girlfriend, now fiance Phoebe Grasmeder, quit her job in Darwin and moved to Adelaide to be by his side every day.
The journey to being a promising wheelchair tennis player was not an easy one though.
“I was in a lot of pain a lot of the days. I’d get this neuropathic pain, which is kind of like a nerve pain, in my leg, it felt like I was being tasered. It was debilitating for quite a while,” Orchard said.
“It was hard work. The change was immense. I went from someone that didn’t want to engage with anyone or do anything to being confident to go around and speak to the other people in the rehab and help them when they were feeling down.
“It was a hard slog but it definitely got easier.”
Tennis became Orchard’s release, giving him a sense of purpose.
“When I first hit that ball it was very satisfying. It just felt like the right thing, in a weird way. I was just infatuated by it all,” he said.
“It gave me a complete purpose. It has given me the ability to really show people that just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t do stuff.
“I’m not bitter or angry or upset. I’m just getting on with it and I just want to be the best at it and that is all I can really focus on.”
Exceptional jack of all sporting trades has decade to pick Paralympic sport
Phoebe Finlay has always been exceptional.
Born at 25 weeks gestation, battling through 12 surgeries, 85 blood transfusions and waking up each time the doctors said she wouldn’t.
Now 14, Phoebe is on a mission to compete at the Brisbane 2032 Paralympics.
She has exactly 10 years to prepare.
Phoebe is a vision impaired athlete, with zero vision in one eye and the ability to see just 30cm in front of her with her other eye.
It hasn’t stopped her giving things a go – she is an up and coming swimmer, loves triathlon, rowing, long distance running and recently took up vision impaired tennis.
The St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School student said she wasn’t quite sure what sport she wanted to specialise in, as she loved them all, with swimming and tennis her favourites.
She only took up competitive swimming 12 months ago and has already pulled off impressive performances at the National Age Championships in Adelaide.
The Paralympic movement has given Phoebe opportunities her mum Katrina was worried she would miss out on.
“There was a period there where it was really hard because she can’t obviously compete with the other girls and she can’t take part in a lot of ball sports, we were a bit lost when it came to finding things that lit her fire,” Katrina said.
But the inclusion of multi-class sports at St Aidan’s and across district school sport meant Phoebe was able to compete.
“Now she has found her spot in the world and she loves it,” Katrina said.
“It is amazing for her to be able to compete for her school at those sort of events.”
Phoebe isn’t the only young Brisbane athlete hoping to don the green and gold for Brisbane Paralympics in 2032.
Lachlan Farlow, 11, is an aspiring swimmer. It was after attending a multi-sport day that he realised that having cerebral palsy didn’t mean he couldn’t participate.
This year he even won a gold medal at the Australian Swimming National Championships.
“I want to make the Paralympics because I love sport and I like competing against other people,” Lachlan said.