Like most 16-year-olds, Jason Ballerini was just looking for a bit of fun to get up to one hot summer’s day.
He decided that a swim would hit the spot, and journeyed out to his favourite hideaway just off the Murray River.
I’d swum there thousands of times. It was the swimming spot every summer.
- Jason Ballerini recalls
Unknown to Jason, the sandbank that day had shifted.
Jumping off one of the bank’s overhanging logs, Jason dived headfirst into 50cm of shallow the water, and then straight into the earth.
He was immediately crippled, breaking his spine and becoming a C5 quadriplegic unable to stand or walk, and with no feeling below his neck.
Lying frozen below the water surface, he was eventually pulled from the river and resuscitated. Now, more than 20 years on, Jason is warning others of the potentially fatal results of playing in rivers, creeks and streams.
“Things change, particularly on the river. Sandbanks move or there could be a log. You just don’t know. Be conscious, and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t take things for granted.”
- Jason Ballerini continues.
Plenty of factors make inland waterways so dangerous and unpredictable. These include changing currents, undertows, submerged objects like branches and rocks, and, as in Jason’s case, hidden sandbanks.
It’s an amalgamation of these factors that have resulted in more than 1,000 fatalities and 500 hospitalisations from drowning incidents in rivers across Australia in the last fifteen years.
Local men aged between 25-34, only slightly older than Jason when he was permanently disabled, are the primary demographic at risk.
If you plan on getting out into the water these summer holidays, be aware of the risks and stay safe. Wear a lifejacket whenever boating or using a watercraft, avoid alcohol around water, and never swim alone.
Finally, encourage yourself and your mates to learn or brush up on some basic lifesaving skills such as CPR. You never know when it will save a life just like Jason’s.
These important messages are being driven by Royal Life Saving as part of their Respect the River campaign to save lives in Australian Rivers.