THE year ahead was supposed to be one full of love, excitement and adventure for Lake Macquarie couple Ash Treseder and Maddi Magennis.
But instead of being surrounded by family and friends at their engagement party last week, they were in a ward at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, desperately waiting to hear whether Ash would ever regain any feeling or movement in his body from the chest down.
“We won’t know the full extent of his injuries for a while yet, but the doctors are saying most of it is likely to be permanent, and that he is unlikely to walk again,” Maddi said.
“It is all still sinking in.”
Ash was left with a broken neck and severe spinal cord damage after diving from a pier at Shoal Bay on January 3. It was something he had done many times before, without incident.
But this time, the tide was lower than anticipated, and he hit the bottom, hard.
First with his hands. Then his head.
“I had dived off that pier, I’d say close to 20 times before,” Ash said. “This time – I suppose because I’d been watching kids jumping off it all day, I just didn’t take note of the tide and how deep it was.
“And I decided to do this big, diving leap.”
Maddi, 23, was sitting on the beach while Ash, 30, swam out to the pier.
“There was heaps of people around – there would have been a good 20 kids on the same pier doing the same thing,” Maddi said.
“When it happened, I genuinely thought he may have been concussed. He was head down – face down – in the water, and I thought he was unconscious.”
Ash said after he hit the bottom, his body went “completely blank”.
He was conscious, but he was unable to move his arms or his legs to swim to safety.
“I could hear all the kids, people swimming and laughing, and everyone on the pier,” he said.
“And all I could think was, ‘Shit, I can’t move. I can’t swim. I am going to drown’.
“I was just waiting for someone to jump in after me. Waiting and waiting. It felt like an eternity.
“I thought I was gone.”
He had just started to black out when a man jumped in and flipped him over.
“That’s when I got my first gasp of air. Others came around to support me and walked me closer to shore,” he said.
They held Ash in the water until paramedics arrived about 45 minutes later, Maddi said.
Every wave – every ripple – that lapped his neck was agony.
Being unable to move was terrifying.
He was flown to Royal North Shore for extensive emergency surgery, and he has been there ever since.
Ash, a keen sportsman and a disability support worker, broke two vertebrae in his neck, shattered another, and suffered spinal cord and nerve damage in the accident.
They had driven up to Shoal Bay that morning to have lunch and a swim to celebrate the last day of their holiday.
Over lunch at the Country Club, they had been talking about their big plans for the year. An engagement party. A house. A wedding in November. A honeymoon.
The possibility of starting a family.
“I looked at Ash and I said, ‘It all seems too good to be true’,” Maddi said.
“I remember saying it, because I had never felt happier than in that moment, talking about the life we were going to have in this beautiful part of the world.
“An hour later – it had all flipped.
“It’s funny how life can prove you right.”
Ash said they had been sun-baking and swimming at the beach that morning, and had planned to go home straight after lunch.
“But me, being me, mentioned I wanted to jump off the pier,” he said.
“I said, ‘Let me just go and quickly jump off the pier. I don’t want to have come out all this way and not have jumped off’.
“Maddi said, ‘Go for it, but be careful’.”
(Ash can be seen below completing the dive in an Instagram post from April, 2018)
What followed was “all a blur” for Maddi.
“I remember seeing him bobbing up and down in the water, and people starting to get in and try to flip him over, and all I could think was, ‘Put your head up Ash. Put your head up’,” she said.
“I said it out loud as I started walking towards him. I was just in complete shock as to how quickly our day had changed. I just kept walking. ‘Turn over! Put your head up!’
“It was very traumatic. But we have a great support network who are helping us through it all at the moment.”
After his initial surgery, doctors advised Ash that he was unlikely to walk again.
“They had told me I was just going to have some feeling in my shoulders, that I’d be able to shrug, and that would probably be the extent of what I would be able to do,” he said.
But so far, he had regained more sensation, more movement, than expected.
“At the moment, it is numb basically from the chest down. But I’ve got a great range of movement in my arms, my hands, my biceps, my triceps, my wrist.
“My fingers are still numb. But there’s still some hope more will come back within the next 12 weeks.”
His neck and spinal cord needed time to “settle” before they would know more.
They expect to be in Sydney, at the hospital and then a rehab facility, for at least the next six months.
“We are trying to organise our life as much as we can,” Maddi said. “But we are walking in the dark at the moment.
“It’s going to be a bit of a struggle, but we have seen many other families get through it and we are determined to do the same.”
A Go Fund Me campaign to support Ash’s recovery and rehabilitation had raised more than $66,000 in two weeks.
“Never in a million years could I have imagined how much support people would have given me,” an emotional Ash said. “It has restored my faith in humanity – people genuinely caring for people in tough spots.”
Maddi said every cent raised would go towards his ongoing treatment, recovery and changing needs.
“He is going to need years and years of physio and rehab, but also, it is to help pay for house and car modifications,” she said. “It is solely for his recovery, and what he will need in the future with his disability.
“What has been raised so far is a testament to him. It shows what type of man he is, and how many lives he has touched. He is one of the most kind, generous young men in this world. The love of my life.”
For the past 18 months, Ash had worked as a disability support carer in a group home, predominantly caring for two men who use wheelchairs.
“I am now on the other end of it,” he said.
“The care and assistance that I’m receiving each morning is what I was doing for the clients I supported.
“It has been eye-opening to be on the other side, and ironic.”
The former private investigator had also recently begun a wedding videography business.
He had several weddings booked in for the year.
“Unfortunately that has been put on pause,” Maddi said.
“But his positivity and determination is incredible. He is incredible. He has been putting everyone else at ease – even though he is the one going through this life-changing experience that has flipped his world upside down.”
But Ash is just glad to be here, he said.
“I got to the point where I thought I was dead – I thought I was going to drown in that water…But I am still able to look at Maddi now, and tell her I love her, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to do that again,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance.
“It’s not the ideal, but it’s the one that I’ve got. And some people don’t get that.
“I’m still here, trying to give it my best crack.”
Ash said Maddi was very good at cheering him up.
“I can see how, for a young woman, it would be very easy to take the easy route,” he said.
“But she’s such a strong woman for her age.
“She says she is in for the long haul, and more than anything, she is still talking about our plans for getting married at the end of the year.”
They intend to get married in the Hunter Valley, on November 16.
“Our plans, and the way they happen, may be different – very different, but in the long run, our goals are still the same, and still achievable in terms of marriage and a family,” Ash said.
“That means a lot.”
Maddi hoped Ash’s story showed people that life could flip in an instant.
“You never know what is going to happen on any given day,” she said.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stay safe.
“All of us want every family to go home safe to each other at the end of the day, but this does happen. Accidents happen. You always think it’s going to be someone else. But it can happen to you.”
To support his recovery, visit gofundme.com/move-mountains-for-ash.