Terry Mitropoulos has been called all kinds of things since being told he would never walk again.
Amazing, inspiring, miraculous, brilliant. He’s never been called a quitter. No way, no how.
But as the 46-year old ‘miracle man’ walks from Adelaide to Melbourne, he can’t help but think about how people quit on him.
If Mr Mitropoulos played by the rules of which Australia’s health system said he must play, he would absolutely be laying flat on his back today with a nurse cleaning his backside.
Much has been written and said about how the former Greek businessman came to be walking across the country.
It’s not a short story. The truncated version goes something like this:
Nine years ago Mr Mitropoulos was diagnosed with a brain tumour and given a five per cent chance of survival.
The father of two underwent 13 brain operations and had 72 different types of medication pumped into his body. He caught a superbug in hospital that threatened to kill him. When he became a guinea pig for a trial drug, things went from bad to horrendous.
While the drug killed the bug, it fried his central nervous system and left him a paraplegic. Mr Mitropoulos lost his memory, hearing, sight and doctors told him he would never walk again.
After four years on his back, they were comfortable with that prognosis.
Born in the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, where kids are built tough, Mr Mitropoulos was never going to accept he could not get better.
He remembers like it was yesterday – the day Australia’s health system branded him a lost cause.
He had just finished another rehab session when a nurse broke the news that his file had been reviewed and his allocated number of rehab hours had expired.
Mr Mitropoulos had only been in rehab a little over a year when he was given his marching orders.
While staff were sympathetic, they told the devastated dad their hands were tied.
‘I was quite shocked and after all that time I never knew that I was on a stop watch,’ Mr
Mitropoulos told Daily Mail Australia.
Near 200kms into his walk, the moment still touches what remains of any raw nerves left in his body.
‘I was very disheartened. Absolutely, I was really disheartened. When you’re told that this is it and you’re told that you’ll never walk again and you’re doing your best in order to re-establish yourself – to be a father again and to be that loving husband, be that friend and to even by myself – to take that away from you?’ he said.
‘Why would you do that? Why would you do that to any soul? You don’t do that sort of stuff. Support the person – the one that really wants to make a difference in their lives.’
Mr Mitropoulos said he could have understood it if he wasn’t taking to the treatment and had given up the game.
‘There are many out there that you give them your all and they don’t appreciate it. But there are others, like myself, that all I wanted to do was regain as best as possible what I could be,’ he said.
Sent home in a wheelchair, Mr Mitropoulos was determined to surround himself with people who believed in him. The long-time fight fan was watching a documentary on an Australian boxer when he was inspired by the fighter’s strength and conditioning coach.
Mr Mitropoulos did his homework and compiled a list of potential coaches.
One stuck out. Ben Siong had called himself ‘the master of strengthening and conditioning’.
‘I said: “I’m gonna test you champ”,’ Mr Mitropoulos said.
Asked what he wanted from his training, Mr Mitropoulos did not hesitate.
‘I know I’m not going to be who I was once before. But what I do know is I can better myself,’ he told the trainer. ‘How far, I don’t know. But what I do know: I am going to better myself.’
Unlike the rehab he had undertook under the ‘stop watch’, Mr Mitropoulos said Siong could ‘feel his hunger’.
‘He believed in me to the point that I believed in him. That’s what I was looking for,’ Mr Mitropoulos said. The pair began extensive training – hard core training that pushed Mr Mitropoulos to his limits. In less than two months, Mr Mitropoulos was walking about with nothing more than a stick.
Looking back, Mr Mitropoulos is sure he would never have walked again if he wasn’t booted out of rehab by the Australian government.
Absolutely not. And that’s sad. It’s very sad,’ he said.
It’s exactly the reason why Mr Mitropoulos is walking more than 700km from Adelaide to
‘To show the people, you just don’t give in. If someone tells you you’ll never walk again, it doesn’t mean you’re never going to walk again,’ he said.
‘You can find a way that you can walk. You can find a way that you can actually better yourself in a manner in which you’re comfortable with yourself.
‘From being as low as you can get, from being as dark as you can be, look at the light that I’ve been able to shine to not only myself, but to others. This is an example of the power of each other because without each other we have nothing, but when working together we can achieve from the impossible to the possible.’
Mr Mitropoulos is now inspiring others to restore their self belief while caught up in a health system that often throws them on the scrap heap.
He has already helped a man who was stuck in a nursing home with no arms and legs to walk again after making one phone call.
‘I’ve got half a brain. My brain has been opened 13 times. My mental status is far from the average person. My IQ is nothing. But I had just enough in order to do some research, some homework for this person and from that one phone call I found this lovely lady that did this for him,’ he said.
‘And this is the rehab system that had all of the resources in order to accommodate him for his legs, but no, stupid Terry with no brain made one phone call and now he’s got two prosthetic legs and he can just walk around where he needs to.’
Mr Mitropoulos said the system was broken.
‘They’re guided by a book. And when you’re dealing with humanity you don’t follow books. You follow by what you see … because your needs could be so different from what the book states. If you follow by the book, which they do, man, it only gives you the alphabet.’
All money raised by Mr Mitropoulos from his walk will go to the YMCA and the Black Dog Institute, which helps in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.