Steven Ralph goes to peel the last bit of his banana but hesitates.

He can't quite get his grip right and he needs some help propping the piece of fruit back up in his hand.

It's hard to imagine such a simple task can become so difficult because of one seemingly simple act.

"It was a bit of a shock," the 27-year-old says of the day he became a quadriplegic 18 months ago, now unable to move anything but his upper arms.


The unremarkable act of diving into a pool while on a trip with mates in Port Macquarie, NSW, changed his life forever. While diving in at deep end, he accidentally hit his head on a shelf, fracturing his C4 vertebra, reported.

"You always expect something that would cause an injury like this to be pretty dramatic but it can happen doing anything I guess. It doesn't have to be crazy," he says.

For Steve there was no moment of realisation like in the movies when you wake up and realise you can't feel your legs. He knew straight away.

"The hit wasn't even that hard so I wasn't even unconscious or knocked out or anything," he says.

"Straight away I knew something was wrong because I just felt immediately unable to move my legs. I couldn't stand up.

"It was weird. I was super clearly thinking, everything was normal, and I wasn't even in shock until when it first hit me that after a few seconds I wasn't moving."

3D printing enabled an extra component to be added to the reel to allow Steve to use it. Photo / Supplied
3D printing enabled an extra component to be added to the reel to allow Steve to use it. Photo / Supplied

Having been a young and healthy guy, Steve just assumed the best after the injury, which saw him spent 10 long months in hospital.

"The first few months you just don't want to believe it's happening," he says.


"I thought I'll be fine — I'm young, fit and healthy. I kept telling myself I would get better but as the months go along it sets in and really hits you that no matter what you do or how hard you try, it doesn't improve."

But the thing that has improved is Steve's quality of life, thanks to Sargood, a world-first resort designed for people with spinal cord injury.

Sitting on the beach in Collaroy in Sydney's northern beaches, the state-of-the-art facility has any kind of equipment you can think of for a person in a wheelchair, and if they don't have it, they make it.

Resort staff has started 3D-printing custom components to be added to equipment so people with a spinal cord injury can return to the activities they love, be it fishing, handcycling, surfing, kayaking, tennis or ocean swimming.

For Steve, the resort allowed him to return to his love of surfing and kayaking.

"It was an awesome feeling getting back into the water, into the surf again," he says.

"You find it hard to imagine how it would work or how you would have that opportunity once things change physically.

"The first time kayaking was unreal. It was a surreal feeling. When you first get in there, not being able to see your legs didn't matter. My brain thought I was watching a video. I just tripped out thinking how are you in this kayak again? It was pretty awesome."

Sargood also has four-wheel-drive wheelchairs that allow guests to go for beach adventures. Photo / Supplied
Sargood also has four-wheel-drive wheelchairs that allow guests to go for beach adventures. Photo / Supplied

Occupational therapist David Simpson says the 3D printing element of the resort has been life-changing for its guests.

Not only do they get to return to something they used to enjoy, they're also taught how to use the printer so that once they're home they can design and print new components themselves if they need to.

"All of a sudden with a little 30c part you can do an activity which you couldn't do any other way and all of a sudden they're not only independent in the activity but independent in solving the problem associated with that activity in the first place," Mr Simpson says.

"It's kind of revolutionary in the disability world and it puts the person at the centre of the design phase and centre of solving their own problems.

"3D printing is one of the most empowering technologies out there at the moment."

Steve loves the resort so much he's been back half a dozen times.

"I don't think 10 years ago people would have thought this idea would be viable and now they're seeing it, people are paying attention," Dr Simpson says.