By Amy ChengWednesday 20 Jan 2021
In the lead up to Australia Day 2021, we will bring you the stories of the four NSW nominees for Australian of the Year Awards. Nathan Parker is the NSW nominee for Young Australian of the Year 2021.
Making consistent small choices helped a young amputee to recover from a horrific accident to achieve his dream of becoming a pilot.
Nathan Parker, 25, was left badly injured after a military bus accident, with his left hand needing to be amputated.
The NSW Young Australian of the Year 2021 was well on his way to achieving his dream job of becoming a fighter pilot.
When he woke up from the first surgery after the accident, Mr Parker was determined not to let his injuries rule his life.
Making consistent small choices
“And looking back at the end of the day, if you’ve only gone that little bit further, you’re still further ahead than you were yesterday.” – Nathan Parker
One of the first challenges came when he was trapped in the bathroom for the first time. He wanted to get up and out of the bathroom but was pinned to the ground.
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“At that point of time, I made my first decision, which was to focus on my breathing and to try to arrive at the hospital with a pulse. So, I think if I did that I’d probably survive,” Mr Parker told Hope 103.2.
It was this decision that helped foster his approach to life, to make consistent small choices, one at a time.
“I boil it down to what’s the thing I can do right now, or what’s the next small thing I can do to make even the smallest steps forward, and that actually helped me get through some particular times that were really tough,” he said.
“And looking back at the end of the day, if you’ve only gone that little bit further, you’re still further ahead than you were yesterday.”
Three months after his accident, he returned to civilian flying and resumed military and university studies within seven months.
He became the first upper-limb amputee in the Australian Defence Force Academy’s history to complete his final 12 months and graduate.
In 2019, he was medically discharged and went on to become a commercial pilot.
Everyday guy making the most of his circumstances
Mr Parker was recognised as the NSW Young Australian of the Year 2021 in November and is this year’s NSW nominee for the Young Australian of the Year award.
He said it is “humbling” and “quite surreal” to be recognised in this way, but he is just passionate about having faith in tough times and helping others.
“In all honesty, I see myself as a normal, everyday guy just trying to make the most of the cards I’ve been dealt and trying to give back and help others that have faced challenges wherever I can,” he said.
“In all honesty, I see myself as a normal, everyday guy just trying to make the most of the cards I’ve been dealt and trying to give back and help others that have faced challenges wherever I can.” – Nathan Parker
His dream of becoming a pilot is one he has had since he was a child.
“I like the freedom that you get while doing it, but the other thing that I really enjoy about it is you can never really know everything,” Mr Parker said.
“There’s always something you can improve, there’s always something else to learn or new skills and avenues in aviation to explore.
“So, it’s a way to continually not only improve myself as a pilot but also myself as a person, so that’s really cool.”
A whole new world of adaptive sports
Sport played a pivotal role in Mr Parker’s recovery process, opening up a whole new world of adaptive sports and giving him a sense of normalcy.
He has competed in a variety of sports, including athletics, indoor rowing, swimming and sitting volleyball.
“The biggest thing for me, particularly in my recovery when things were getting challenging, particularly outside of sport, it gave me a means that I could always have – that continuing progress,” he said.
In particular, training for indoor rowing proved beneficial.
“Every time I went that little bit further on the rowing machine, even if it was just an extra metre, it was a way for me to see that I was still improving, and each small one of those added up into a big victory in the end,” he said.
Mr Parker would go on to represent Australia at two Invictus Games and two US Department of Defense Warrior Games. The biggest highlight for him was being on a team of “such incredible people”.
“Everyone had their own unique journeys to get to that point. Everyone had injuries and different stories,” he said.
“And being able to be among them, feel accepted as part of that team and go and represent Australia on the world stage was pretty awesome.”
Mr Parker’s advice to others is to never let anything stop them from chasing their dreams.
“Our setbacks don’t have to determine our story, and we can change one of our toughest times into our greatest opportunities,” he said.
NSW State Recipient Young Australian of the Year 2021
Pilot, Invictus Games gold medallist
NSW Nominee Young Australian of the Year 2021
User Experience Designer, co-founder of Ambient & Co and world champion athlete
Founder of Foster the Future
The Australian of the Year Awards will take place at 7.30pm, Monday 25 January 2021, on ABC TV and iview.
Featured image supplied by Salty Dingo