17 Apr 2023

Wheel Black Gareth Lynch living his best life

From First Up, 5:50 am on 17 April 2023

After becoming a tetraplegic seven years ago, Gareth Lynch was forced to develop resilience – an invaluable skill he says many of us aren't taught.

Now, the Wheel Black (wheel chair rugby All Black) wants to share with others what he's learnt about how easy it is to misjudge risk and the power of developing mental strength.

"I kind of feel an obligation now to share these ideas that i believe can beneift everyone to live a happier and more fulfilling life.' Gareth tells Nathan Rarere.

Photo: Paralympics New Zealand

Gareth, who now works as a natural resources engineer, was a second-year student at the University of Canterbury  "living quite a risk-filed life" when a stunt gone wrong left him paralysed.

He'd designed and planned the stunt, which involved jumping off a roof into a swimming pool, but when the time came, misjudged his jump.

"My momentum took me into the side of the pool, the bottom corner, where I collided with the side and broke my neck and damaged my spinal cord. So that made me a tetraplegic."

Gareth was immediately aware that he couldn't move and that something major had happened, but was also in shock.

"I was stuck face down in the pool holding my breath and waiting for some help before y friends and partner pulled me out of the water."

For several months after the accident, Gareth says he struggled to see the point of a life where he'd lost both independence and the ability to do the activities he loved.

"There was certainly a stage of dwelling on that entirely negative aspect of my situation. After a little while, I realised it was actually me making myself more miserable than I needed to be.

"It was these thoughts and emotions that I was struggling with... by dwelling on them and only seeing the negative side. I was making myself more miserable."

In a "watershed moment", he couldn't continue living with this perspective, Gareth shifted his focus to what he could still control and do going forward.

"I can only put my attention and focus on things that are in my present and potential future. Using that perspective shift, I think I've got a pretty healthy approach to [what happened to me].

"I do feel I have a bit of an obligation to share how easy it can be to misjudge risk, though, as I certainly did myself."

Gareth now takes his risks on the world's wheelchair rugby courts – representing New Zealand at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics and 2022 Wheel Chair Rugby World Championships in Denmark.

Wheelchair rugby has deeply enriched his life in the years since the accident.

"I was able to meet a whole lot of people who were in similar situations to me, learn from the tips and tricks they use to navigate their lives, and that along with a sense of community and purpose… I got a lot stronger, I could push my wheelchair a lot easier because of the effort and training I put in… I'd be a different person if I'd never found the game."

Where to get help:

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason. 
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354  or text HELP to 4357
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: free counselling for 5 to 19 years old, online chat 11am-10.30pm 7days/week or free phone 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 11am-11pm 
  • Asian Family Services: 0800 862 342 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm or text 832 Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm. Languages spoken: Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English. 
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
  • OUTLine: 0800 688 5463 (6pm-9pm)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.