Real Life

REAL LIFE: My son may have physical and mental disabilities, but that didn't stop me carrying him on my back to see the sights of Australia

We've lifted each other through the hard times.

By Mitchell Jordan

Niki Antram, 44, from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, shares her incredible adventures

Folding the piece of paper into an origami bird, I added it to the growing pile.
I'd spent the evening making decorations for the mobile on my bub Jimmy's cot, but as I walked back into the room and looked at my eight-month-old son, a wave of terror rushed over me.
He's stiff as a board, I thought.
I quickly picked Jimmy up and, passing him to my mum, I dialled triple 0.
I was so hysterical the operator couldn't understand me, so Mum handed Jimmy back and continued the conversation.
Thankfully, the seizure ended but Jimmy was later diagnosed with epilepsy.
This wasn't the first time my son had suffered health problems.
With Jimmy when he was a bub. (Image: Supplied)
At two months old, I'd discovered he was blind, which had made things even more challenging for me as a 17-year-old embarking on motherhood for the first time.
Developmental delays that meant he couldn't talk, along with constant seizures added to my stress until I visited a specialist.
"Jimmy needs medication for his thyroid," a doctor advised me.
His thyroid improved drastically and over time his epileptic seizures stopped.
Although he experienced some other medical problems as he aged, Jimmy remained a ray of sunshine.
At his special needs school, everyone loved him.
Whatever happens, I'm going to give him the best life possible, I vowed.
We love life and want to inspire others to get out there. (Image: Matthew Evans Luna Productions)
Years passed and by now, I was a single mother and would take Jimmy with me for walks, pushing him in his wheelchair.
Living on the Sunshine Coast, Qld, there was so much natural beauty to explore.
"If only I could take Jimmy…" I sighed to my mate, Elise.
"I can help," she offered.
We began to research and decided upon visiting Kondalilla Falls in a nearby national park.
Knowing it was a 3km walk from the carpark to the falls, I decided to piggyback him.
That morning, Jimmy was buzzing with excitement – it was as though he knew exactly what the day held in store for us.
By now, Jimmy was 19, and weighed just 25kg so it wasn't too hard for me to have him on my back as we walked.
"It's beautiful here," I told him as the three of us looked in wonderment at the shimmering falls.
Elise could see how much he'd enjoyed it, too.
"Let's keep exploring," I suggested.
She was all for it.
Jimmy and me - we can go anywhere. (Image: Supplied)
From then on, we'd go on outings each weekend, often to waterholes and beaches in the area.
It wasn't long before I'd really developed an itch to explore more.
Piggybacking Jimmy was fine over short distances, but I was keen to go further with him.
Once a week, I started taking him to Noosa's national park where there were lots of steps from the forest through to the beach.
I practised taking him up and down, developing my strength and endurance enough so that I was soon able to carry Jimmy up a small mountain in the Glass House Mountains.
How far can I go? I wondered.
With our friend Elise in Darwin. (Image: Supplied)
Overseas travel seemed impossible but, after a year of local excursions, I considered Hawaii, which was full of beautiful beaches and mountains.
First, I rang lots of tour companies and explained my circumstances.
"That won't be a problem," they assured me.
So, in 2016, we headed off with Elise joining us again.
Each morning we'd wake, ready to explore.
Jimmy would mimic the sound of the elevator in our hotel, which meant he was excited about going out, too.
On a shark swimming tour, the owner of the company was onboard and came out to speak with us.
"You don't have to take it in turns," he offered Elise and me. "Leave Jimmy with me, you two can enjoy swimming with sharks."
From then on, I'd definitely caught the travel bug, saving every cent to take Jimmy away whenever I could.
Enjoying the Great Barrier Reef. (Image: Supplied)
In Darwin, we entered the Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove, swimming on the other side of the glass and watching a giant crocodile.
In Melbourne, Jimmy and I woke early and took a hot-air balloon ride over the city.
We also went to Bali twice, enjoying the tropical climate and landscape, but it was a trip to see the snow in Perisher Ski Resort that really stole my heart.
Jimmy and I are Queenslanders so snow was a novelty, though I hadn't realised just how hard it is to walk on!
Standing in the winter wonderland was surreal.
I smiled with joy watching Jimmy getting buckled into a sit-down ski and taking off along the snow with a guide.
We planned to head off to Canada in 2020 on a four-week trip – our most ambitious holiday yet – but when COVID hit, those plans got put on hold.
A lot of people lament not being able to travel but lockdown showed me that your world really is what you make it.
Swimming with crocs. (Image: Supplied)
Jimmy and I only had to go down the road and sit on the beach at sunrise to experience the same magic we'd felt at other destinations.
Now I'm happy to share my story, which I document on my website in the hope my son will inspire others as much as he does me.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the challenges of being a teenage mother, but I truly feel blessed to be on this journey with a son who loves life.

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