The 18-year-old was playing the openside flanker for his club Excelsior during a game against St Kevin’s College when he broke his neck. He has been in a wheelchair ever since.
“It only takes a second to change your life,” said affable and inspiring sports fan Oamaru.
A few months ago Mr Hill returned to the spine unit at Burwood Hospital in Christchurch, where he had spent four and a half months after his accident. He addressed the patients and told them, ‘there is more to life than just lying in bed and not going out’.
Mr. Hill has enjoyed his life to the fullest and, after many years of working in the sports industry, has gone from employee to employer last year, opening Oamaru Sports and Outdoors with Barry McCallum.
Last year the opportunity presented itself to the two men to open a sports store in the same building where they had both spent so many years working for Barry and Linda Wilson, who then owned Wilsons Sports. .
Both men had both finished their previous jobs and their passion for the sport was “still pretty strong,” said Mr. Hill.
Going into business themselves, however, was not a decision they took lightly and it took some thought, even though they were “quite excited to do something,” said M McCallum.
While working in the shop was always the same, the administrative aspect of running a business was something they had to get used to. But they were taking the opportunity to work for themselves and control their own destiny, they said.
The couple, co-workers for years, worked well together and were able to exchange ideas. They employed a permanent member of staff.
Mr. McCallum joined what was then the John Edmonds Sports Store after leaving school in 1978. He later became Wilsons Sports.
Before breaking his neck, Mr. Hill worked in stockyards at local freezer factories. Upon returning from Burwood and after a period of “doing nothing”, he was offered standard work experience at Oamaru Hospital. He ended up working in the hospital laundry, surrounded by women, and it was “a lot of fun”.
Then his ACC case manager told him he had a job interview with Barry Wilson at Wilsons Sports. He was hired with a three month trial ” and here I am today, still in the sport and I love it ”.
Having a staff member in a wheelchair has also been a learning curve for Mr and Mrs Wilson and their staff, he said.
They had to adjust to ‘someone sitting on their butt’ who would say ‘I need this on the wall. . . or I need a hand to lift something. ”
Customers also had to adjust to being served by a person in a wheelchair, but after a while they started asking for it.
Mr. Hill bluntly admitted that he could have “crawled in a bag and not got out of bed” after his accident, but the encouragement he received from Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and his colleagues, including Mr. McCallum, allowed him to “get to where I am today”.
He doubted that such support would have been available at a large company.
” You would get lost, ” he said.
During his visit to Burwood last year, he urged patients to step out and become actively involved in their community. Sitting or lying in bed would never get them where they wanted to go, he said. Mr. Hill recalled leaving the safety of the spinal unit, surrounded by other people in wheelchairs, and returning to Oamaru to relocate to the community. The support from the community, however, was “awesome”.
He remembers his mother pushing him into town from their North End home to shop, but never doing the groceries because people kept stopping, wanting to know how he was.
A fundraising rugby match was held in his honor, with an estimated crowd of nearly 5,500, to watch Canterbury play an invitational team from North Otago. It was one of the last games Alex ‘Grizz’ Wyllie, later coach of the All Blacks, played and he handed Mr. Hill a rugby book signed by members of both teams.
Mr Hill was grateful to Excelsior mainstay John Tito, who hired him as manager of a senior team, saying that without him he was unsure whether he would have become so actively involved in the rugby he did.
He later coached a senior B team and managed an Under-20 team and when Excelsior faced a training crisis he and Darryn Stewart took over the senior team to get through, which was a “great experience”.
He had relaxed his involvement in rugby, especially with the new company, saying work should be a priority.
Oamaru Sports and Outdoors opened in March of last year and had received “unreal” public support. The couple aimed to provide old-fashioned service and they were both grateful for Mr. and Mrs. Wilson’s continued support. Mr. McCallum was responsible for stringing the snowshoes and also giving advice on sports in general, while Mr. Hill was in charge of fishing – ” I would go fishing every day of the week if I could. ” – repair of rods and reels, firearms and water sports.
“Not that I’m a great water skier. “
The couple’s goal was to continue to grow sales and “profit from what we do,” McCallum said.