Champion wakeboarder Brad Smeele will tonight make a rare trip out from his care unit where he has been since returning home to Auckland in October after a crash left him a quadriplegic.
Smeele, a junior world champion, shattered his C4 vertebrae in July at Lake Ronix, Florida, attempting a trick that won him the sport's 2014 Trick of the Year.
He watched from a hospital bed in Orlando as his younger brother, Alex, accepted the award for him.
"It was very bittersweet," the 27-year-old told the Herald.
Smeele will speak at the New Zealand premiere of the wakeboarding movie Prime at the Victoria Theatre in Devonport tonight. The film features most of the world's top wakeboarders including the Kiwi.
Smeele remembers the accident with freeze-frame clarity. He had landed the trick he pioneered - a ramp-to-ramp double backflip with a 180 degree rotation and backwards landing - in Germany two weeks before and was attempting it a second time during filming at Lake Ronix for the movie.
"I knew as soon as I took off that I'd gone too big." He opened out of his tuck to execute a routine single flip but had too much momentum.
"I touched my board on the ramp just as I was leaning forward and about to go face-forward into it. I tried to tuck and roll but I only got my head tucked under and my shoulders impacted the ramp."
He was briefly unconscious. "I remember them dragging me into shore, the helicopter getting there, the MRI scan and then it became a blur."
This year was his second season as a professional wakeboarder. He was the manager of the Lake Ronix complex, the world's biggest private wake park, and home was a Portacom trailer.
"No power or running water, shower in the lake each day," he said. "It was sort of my dream."
That was to be his platform for gaining more sponsors. "Then one split-second, one wrong decision, I had that all taken away from me. Everything I'd worked so hard for."
At 1.88m - tall for a wakeboarder - and 95kg, his muscular physique and good-looks snared him modelling jobs and he was named a Cleo Bachelor of the Year finalist.
Smeele has lost 20kg since the accident and also parted ways with his American girlfriend Talor Reazin.
"It came down to she's living over there and I'm here," he said. "She's very family-orientated ... We had a good talk and there were no hard feelings."
He considers himself to be a positive person. "I just have to concentrate on the task at hand now which is getting back on my feet. There's really no point looking in the past because you can't change it."
On a wall in his room at the Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit is a list headed "The seven principles of Huna" - a Hawaiian word meaning secret.
"The world is what you think it is," Smeele said. "If you focus on all the bad s***, that's what you see the world as. If you focus on all the beautiful things and the good stuff then that is what the world is."
Principle 3 helps with rehab. "Energy flows where attention goes." Even during bed rest he tries to make a fist or wiggle a toe. He has movement back in his shoulders, a twitch in his biceps, a flicker in his thumbs.
He operates a wheelchair by blowing in a straw and his cellphone with a long stick held in his mouth.
The phone has got him back in business. He is organising a wakeboard meet in New Zealand later in the summer and a board he's designed is due soon on the market. It's called the B-Rad and is embossed with the words Kia Kaha.
"A lot of people have obviously said that to me."
Doctors have said the chance of regaining movement of his extremities is 1 or 2 per cent. "Doctors never want to get your hopes up," said Smeele. Principle 2 of Huna says, "There are no limits; everything is possible."
His accident was captured on film but only 10 people in the world have seen it. His ultimate aim is to use that footage to start a documentary about his recovery.
"The plan is to finish the documentary with me walking and wakeboarding again."
What: Premiere of wakeboarding movie Prime
Where: Victoria Theatre, Devonport
When: Tonight, doors open at 7
Who: Includes tricks by Kiwi Brad Smeele, left a quadriplegic by a crash in July. Proceeds go to the Brad Smeele Foundation.
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