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 four-wheel 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 three-and-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 on with 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 behind me... and with the help of Jamie who’d just come back from his overseas trip it really helped me 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... we were 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 was outclassed and lost 7-5, 6-3.
Three years later Dobbie retired from competitive 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.’’