South Western Times
THE BUSH GOT ME BACK ON TRACK
The adventure icons of WA’s bush were once the playgrounds of a young Ben Aldridge.
Whether it was conquering the 1000km Bibbulmun Track or failing to handle the Avon Descent, Mr Aldridge had a gung-ho outlook to life’s great physical challenges.
But serving in the Australian Defence Force in East Timor led to a devastating life change. Emotional cracks had already started to appear after returning from his overseas posting.
In Townsville on March 31, 2007, his world crashed to the ground from a cliff called The Cut, where he would regularly stop to urinate on a late-night walk home from the pub.
Mr Aldridge is now a business champion in WA’s disability sector.
“With a full bladder, you could p... off the edge of the cliff and hit the cars travelling below,” he said.
“When you’re blind drunk, you’re not necessarily sure if you’re happy with the country or not after being made to hunt down people you respect. So it’s a great feeling to be p...ing on the world. But on this particular night, I lost my balance and over I’ve gone. I fell 30 feet (10 metres) and all I remember is the sensation of falling . . . then, lights out. I should not be alive.”
The next thing Mr Aldridge recalls is waking up in an intensive care unit about three weeks later.
He had shattered his C6 vertebrae and dislocated his C7, almost
completely severing his spinal cord.
Having to go “cold turkey” on his alcoholism while having adverse reactions to his medication regime caused significant challenges, including hallucinations.
But after getting some closure about his fall he was moved back to Perth’s Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital and began to put his life back on track.
It included a romance with his nurse Lauren — now his wife. They have an eight-year-old son, Logan.
Living with his young family at Peppermint Grove Beach, near Capel, has been a key plank in his recovery. “Who would find a cripple
attractive? Who would fall in love with a bloke who can hardly move his body?” he said.
“She met me at the darkest point of my life and has given me some of the greatest light. At the age of 22, I knew nothing about disability . . . but being comfortable with the uncomfortable is something that has worked really for me.
“As soon as life starts to feel like it’s getting comfortable for me, I find the next challenge.”
Mr Aldridge got his taste for the bush growing up in the Perth Hills with his single mum. They also spent time at Bakers Hill and Brookton.
“I’ve always loved the bush because of the lack of expectations when you go out there and you no longer have this expectation of the need to conform or impress people,” he said.
“You come to the realisation that you don’t need to fight the bush in order to survive, you co-exist with the bush and work with it.”
During a gap year at age 18, Mr Aldridge decided his challenges would include the Avon Descent and the Bibbulmun Track.
Mr Aldridge later spent nearly six months in East Timor as part of the rapid deployment force during his service. “It was going nuts — it was military versus police and they were skirmishing in the streets,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody is ever ready for that, but I was up for it even though I had reservations.
“The whole thing was very challenging for your morals.”
Being on an intense edge for so many months left Mr Aldridge with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He thought the nightmares were just normal after what he had been through and the extra alcohol consumption was a natural coping mechanism.
Mr Aldridge started his 30 Foot Drop business in 2017 to help increase opportunities for people with disability. His almost immediate impact was rewarded with a recent 40under40 award.
“This is my way of leaving the world in a better place,” he said.
His research uncovered an untapped cash pool in terms of accessible tourism.
“At the moment so very few businesses and events are employing accessible tourism best practice,” he said.
National Disability Services WA State manager Julie Waylen said Mr Aldridge’s work was highly valued as an advocate for people with disability living in regional WA.
“It’s important to realise that people with disability living in rural and remote WA do face a different, quite unique, set of challenges compared to those living in the city, and even other regional areas of Australia. Ben is able to really tap into these issues,” she said.