Game changer at Merriwa

Ben Cooper is one of those people you want on your team; he’s passionate and caring, eager to learn, he goes the extra mile to support people, and you can talk to him about absolutely anything – especially sport.

Ben’s ability to engage with the Merriwa team and bring conversation to everyone he meets is evident as he begins to share his story, “I’m a local, born and bred in Albury, but my start to life was challenging and I wasn’t expected to survive. I was flown from Albury to the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne and was clinically dead for 5 minutes, the pilot had to fly the plane at low altitude between tree to allow me to survive.

“I have Cerebral Palsy and I couldn’t walk until I was 5 years, or talk until 6 years of age. My Mum is an amazing woman and did everything she could to get me on track.”

Before he knew it, just like every other kid, Ben was off to Primary School and has great memories of the support he received there, “I had great mates and the school principal was fantastic. I remember one day the whole school cheering me on as I walked for the first time from the fence to the tuck shop, it was just awesome.”

It was when Ben started High School that his passion for basketball came to light. That was a game changer for him, saying “Playing wheelchair basketball was the first time I felt like I really belonged. I got my first wheelchair for basketball from Kevin Fawkner when there was a wheelchair basketball roadshow that came through town.

“I was selected to play for NSW and we won 7 National Titles, which is something I’m really proud of. From that point I started realising my potential and moved to Sydney (Homebush) to the NSW Academy of Sport. I learnt how to be independent and how to be an elite athlete. I met some amazing people, like Tamsin Lewis – we used to meditate each morning together.”

“In 2004, I travelled to Spain in the World Championships and we won a Silver medal in the under 23’s, and in 2005 was the Albury Wodonga Young Achiever of the Year.”

Riding high on success and returning to Albury after living in Sydney, Ben found it difficult to find his place back in the community. He worked at Kalianna in Albury and progressed in his role to managing programs such as the Recycle-It Program, but he still didn’t feel like he was fitting in.”

In an unbelievable chain of events, Ben says he has Elton John to thank for the position he is in at the moment working  with Merriwa, “My mum and dad went to the Elton John concert at Rutherglen and started chatting to the people next to them, which happened to be Bart Crawley the CEO at Merriwa. From that point on, I received a call to meet up and started my role at Merriwa.”

As the Return to Work Coordinator, Ben passionately describes Merriwa as a place that gives people purpose and loves where he works, “It’s been a game changer for me, the best thing about Merriwa is seeing people grow, seeing people for their ability and their talents. They’ve really changed the landscape for people with disability, creating opportunities and making change in people’s lives.”

“I’m extremely grateful to Bart for allowing me to be a part of the organisation and if I can make a change in someone’s life for the better, then that is as good as it gets.”

When it comes to the future, Ben’s aspirations are all about how he can help and support other people, and how he can grow as a leader, “One day I would love to be a part of the Leadership group or maybe even the CEO, but for now I am loving my role and being able to help others with their goals and aspirations”.

Congratulations Ben on your journey, we are extremely proud to have you on the Merriwa Team.

Ben Cooper passionate and caring member of Merriwa

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