Heartache, per­sis­tence, glory

The Tatura Guardian - - People - By Hay­den Thom­son

When Tatura res­i­dent Michael Dob­bie suf­fered hor­rific in­juries in a mo­tor­bike accident, no-one imag­ined he would even­tu­ally rep­re­sent his coun­try at the Par­a­lympic Games.

‘‘I was your typ­i­cal coun­try kid who played foot­ball, basketball, ten­nis and even tried my hand at cricket for a sea­son or two,’’ Dob­bie said.

‘‘I was prob­a­bly most keen on foot­ball and basketball, just be­cause all my mates played those and they were the most pop­u­lar sports.’’

Dob­bie moved to Melbourne af­ter fin­ish­ing se­condary school and, on his way to work one morn­ing, his life changed forever.

‘‘I got cleaned up by a four­wheel drive tow­ing a car­a­van,’’ he said.

‘‘It wasn’t the best sit­u­a­tion, I ended up in hos­pi­tal with a bro­ken spine.’’

He was in hos­pi­tal for three­and-a-half months, but was kept mo­ti­vated by his fam­ily and friends who reg­u­larly made trips from Tatura and Shep­par­ton to visit.

‘‘When I was in re­hab at the time the Aus­tralian wheel­chair ten­nis coach was com­ing in on a Tues­day giv­ing free ten­nis lessons,’’ he said.

‘‘I loved it be­cause it was some­thing I could un­der­stand . . . my fore­hand and back­hand tech­nique was sound, I just had to learn how to get to the ball.’’

Dur­ing a coach­ing ses­sion Dob­bie was given some ten­nis balls by Greg Crump, which had been used by the Aus­tralian wheel­chair ten­nis team dur­ing the Syd­ney Par­a­lympics.

‘‘His gift was about say­ing, ‘I hope you go ahead with this’,’’ Dob­bie said.

‘‘By all means make your own choices, but if you wanted to do this you could be quite good.’’

The day Dob­bie left Melbourne to re­turn to Tatura he headed to Kialla Park Ten­nis Club and started train­ing.

‘‘(Be­ing in a wheel­chair) changes things, but it doesn’t pre­vent you from do­ing stuff,’’ he said.

‘‘You can still get around and do most things . . . I just got on­with it and sport had a huge part to play in that be­cause it got me out and about.’’

Un­der the tute­lage of lo­cal coaches James Trevaskis, Jamie Haynes and Com­mon­wealth Games bad­minton star Michael Scan­dol­era, Dob­bie flour­ished.

He en­tered his first wheel­chair ten­nis com­pe­ti­tion in Bendigo and won the tour­na­ment.

‘‘The com­mu­nity re­ally got be­hindme . . . and­with the help of Jamie who’d just come back from his over­seas trip it re­ally helpedme to un­der­stand the de­mands of a pro­fes­sional ath­lete,’’ Dob­bie said.

To im­prove his rank­ings Dob­bie en­tered in­ter­state tour­na­ments, play­ing in up to 15 each year, and ded­i­cated him­self to reach­ing the top level.

In 2005, he went to Europe where he gained in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘I very quickly worked out that I needed to im­prove; my com­pe­ti­tion knew how to win and I got beaten very con­vinc­ingly,’’ Dob­bie said.

He lifted his in­ten­sity and saw the re­sults when he was se­lected to rep­re­sent Australia in the 2006 World Teams’ Cup — the equiv­a­lent of the Davis Cup.

‘‘It was my first trip away with a team and even though I was the last player picked and only com­peted a cou­ple of times, train­ing with the team every day was fan­tas­tic,’’ Dob­bie said.

Dob­bie be­came a reg­u­lar mem­ber of the team dur­ing the next five years and com­peted for Australia in Tur­key, Swe­den, South Africa and Italy.

But the high­light of his ca­reer came in 2008 when he was cho­sen in the team for the Bei­jing Par­a­lympic Games in sin­gles and dou­bles ten­nis.

‘‘You work so hard to get to that point . . . I was never guar­an­teed a spot and the years I spent lead­ing up to that was huge,’’ Dob­bie said.

‘‘To march out with the team and to be there with my coach Greg was re­ally nice . . . wewere all sing­ing Waltz­ing Matilda, it was emo­tional.

‘‘Greg was there one month af­ter my accident and seven years on we were to­gether again.’’

Af­ter some early jitters saw him drop the first three games of his first round match in a mat­ter of min­utes, Dob­bie went on to win.

‘‘I was pretty ner­vous . . . but in the sec­ond-round game I was play­ing a guy ranked top 10,’’ he said.

‘‘I was the last Aus­tralian left in the tour­na­ment — ev­ery­one had been knocked out — so that got me pretty fired up.’’

Un­for­tu­nately Dob­bie out­classed and lost 7-5, 6-3.

Three years later Dob­bie re­tired from­com­pet­i­tive ten­nis and be­gan his ca­reer as a po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor.

‘‘I’m work­ing for a fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter in Can­berra at the mo­ment,’’ he said.

‘‘Liv­ing in Melbourne, but fly­ing to Can­berra every sec­ond week.’’

Dob­bie’s story is one of heartache, per­sis­tence and glory, but he said none of his achieve­ments would be pos­si­ble with­out the sup­port of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

‘‘In sit­u­a­tions like mine it’s the lo­cal com­mu­nity that helps get us through . . . the lo­cal newsagents, butcher and pub helped me with spon­sor­ship . . . and nu­mer­ous other groups raised money for my over­seas trips,’’ he said.

‘‘As much as it was my­self do­ing all th­ese amaz­ing things, they are re­ally a re­flec­tion of the com­mu­nity I lived in.’’

was

Ac­com­plished ca­reer: Tat­u­raraised Michael Dob­bie works as a po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor for a fed­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter.

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