Ben was born with a substantial paralysis down one side and Melissa was told that he may never walk or talk. There are more than 34,000 Australians living with the disability, which affects body movement and muscle co-ordination, and there is no known cure.
“I can still remember that long walk to the car park [after the diagnosis] and thinking that we would never stop crying,” she tells Sarah Harris in the first of our video series to help promote the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s annual Steptember fundraiser.
Melissa says the turning point came when she contacted the Cerebral Palsy Alliance head office near their home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“We just happened to live in this area where the beautiful Cerebral Palsy Alliance is and I made a phone call. The tears just disappeared and the ‘let’s go forward’ feeling happened, and we’ve been here ever since.
“They have been like an extended family. They are very much like a big warm hug around us.”
Adds Ben: “If I didn’t have the treatment here I wouldn’t be able to do the basics in everything, and know how to cope with my CP and the challenges of having it.”
With Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s support Ben has now blossomed into one of the world’s best snowboarding Paralympians.
Against all the odds, the tenacious teen earned himself a wildcard onto the Australian team for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
At just 14 he was the youngest competitor ever picked for the Australian winter line-up, and the youngest in any team in action that year.
Far from overawed by the occasion, Ben whipped thousands of spectators into a frenzy with his top-10 finish, and capped off his remarkable achievement with selection as Australia’s flagbearer at the closing ceremony.
Ben is hoping to finish even higher when he returns to the slopes for Australia at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korean in March.
Meanwhile, there is an annual competition closer to home Ben has his heart set on winning – the family prize for the most steps, or the equivalent of, taken in the Steptember fundraiser.
“Steptember is a big deal…it’s a huge deal,” confirms proud mum Melissa to Sarah.
“We are often at the snow during September and it might be freezing cold and you don’t feel like walking around the streets of Jindabyne, but I’ll be there walking for an hour.
“It is something we are well and truly behind.”
To register your commitment to take at least 10,000 steps a day for 28 days straight from September 4, SMS the word ‘Ben’ to 0499 002 222, or visit www.steptember.org.au.
You will receive a Steptember kit, consisting of a pedometer, lanyard and booklet, right to your doorstep.
Every dollar you raise from sponsorship will provide vital equipment, therapy and services to children and adults living with cerebral palsy. Or, you can choose to raise funds for ground-breaking research into the prevention, and maybe even one day a cure for cerebral palsy.
Read other stories supporting Cerebral Palsy Alliance here: