Though injured wakeboarder Brad Smeele was given only a 1 to 2 per cent chance of recovery after a shocking accident left him quadriplegic, his friends say beating the odds is what he does best.
The 27-year-old is confined to a wheelchair after a wakeboarding trick went wrong at his training ground in Florida in July, but his smile was wide as he was welcomed home from the United States early yesterday morning with a cheer, and a few tears, that erupted from a group of about 30 friends and family who had gathered to meet him at Auckland Airport.
"It's good to be home," he said.
"It'll be good to start the next phase of my recovery."
After arriving at the airport, Mr Smeele headed straight to Middlemore Hospital, where he begins his next phase of treatment before being moved to the Spinal Rehabilitation Unit in Otara tomorrow.
He said the welcome party, complete with signs and T-shirts that read "stay strong Brad", was amazing.
"I wheeled out and I didn't see all the signs or anything, I just saw all my friends, so it's amazing."
Jordan Lewis, a friend of Mr Smeele's since primary school, said the group had a tradition of meeting the wakeboarding champion at the airport whenever he returned from competing overseas.
Though this time circumstances were different, it was always the same, he said.
Mr Lewis said that regardless of the 1 to 2 per cent chance of a full recovery his friend had been given by doctors, he had no doubt Mr Smeele would beat the odds.
"That's the same percentage chance he had of landing some of the tricks he's done in the past," he said.
"He always just takes everything in his stride, he's always done the 1 to 2 per cent things."
Mr Smeele's mother Linda, herself once a champion waterskier, had travelled with her son back to New Zealand from the US, where Mr Smeele had been at a spinal rehabilitation centre in Atlanta, Georgia.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to have Brad home," she said.
She hoped her son's traditional rehabilitation would also incorporate alternative therapies like acupuncture and kinesthesiology that had not been allowed at the US facility.
Family friend Lesley Campbell said Mr Smeele had always been a daredevil, the first to do things the other kids were too scared to try.
"He's got a beautiful soul. Our families used to go on holiday together and he was the kid that would do anything," she said.