Hero photograph
Photo by Andrew Constable

Overcoming adversity - sermon by Tiaki Rhodes

Tiaki Rhodes —

Following a horrific accident over the summer break, Tiaki Rhodes (Year 12), faced an uphill climb to recovery. At Sunday chapel on 3 March, Tiaki delivered a heartfelt and moving sermon with a powerful message about overcoming adversity:

Overcoming adversity. What is it to me? If I was asked that three months ago, I would have had no idea what that was. If you don’t know already, I was involved in an accident during the summer holidays, nearly costing my life. It was just a normal day at my uncle’s farm. I was driving an ATV Can-Am side-by-side with one arm due to a recent left elbow operation, when I hit a bump too fast and lost control of the wheel, swerving left and right before the front right tyre pivoted and dug into the ground flipping the Can-Am twice. I managed to stay in on the first roll, but on the second roll, due to wearing no seatbelt, I fell out the right-hand side and the Can-Am landed on its side directly on top of me crushing the top half of my body under the Can-Am right by the motor - the heaviest part of the vehicle. My head took the major impact and the pressure felt as if my head was in a vice grip with a close to 600kg Can-Am forcing my head into the rocky farm track surface.

I was stuck under this vehicle screaming for help! No one was there to help me. I could feel my face changing shape from the force of the vehicle and I knew if I didn’t get this off me I was going to die. So, I gave it everything I had and more, to push this thing off my head, just enough to get my head out from underneath. As it fell back onto my right arm I looked around and could see double vision due to my face and eye being smashed in. No one knows how I got it off me, not even myself. Still stuck under this Can-Am, my younger sister and cousin, not knowing where I was, turned around and came back looking for me. Thankfully they found me.

With too much blood to even pick out where I was bleeding from, they tried to lift the Can-Am off me, but couldn’t. My cousin went to get help while my sister stayed with me and 10 minutes later my dad and uncle lifted it off me, just enough for me to rip my arm out. Dad drove me to hospital, as the rescue helicopter had no clue where we were. After a quick trip, I ended up walking myself into hospital, holding my head, covered in blood, and apologising to people for pushing in line. I remember the lady in front of me saying to the lady at the counter, “Oh he can go”, and the lady at the counter said, “No he’s alright”, until she actually saw how bad I was. I was then rushed into A&E where the doctors had to do what they could to keep me alive. My head injuries were serious and at the time, there were many unknowns. I was scalped, you could see my skull and I was losing a lot of blood. The doctors had to pick out glass, stones and clean dirt from underneath my scalp before they could put 20 staples in to close the gashes up. They also stitched up all the other deep cuts on my face and neck and removed glass and stones from the road rash on my arm and back. I now have scars which serve as a reminder of how lucky I was that day.

While all this happened, I was awake, well aware of what was happening and I could feel every bit. I spent two weeks, including my New Years, in hospital fighting to stay alive and faced with adversity. I ended up with tooth damage, a broken nose, the orbit of my right eye broken in multiple places and the right side of my face literally smashed back into my face and shattered into tiny pieces. I was transferred from Whangarei Hospital to Middlemore Hospital to undergo a two and a half hour operation by the best face surgeon in New Zealand. Even he and his team said my operation was tricky, as they had to pick out all the bones that were too shattered to keep and make do with the three bits of bone that they had left. They put five titanium plates and 15 screws into the right side of my face to reconstruct and create a whole new structure for my cheek bone to hopefully regrow and knit together over time.

Mentally, this was a challenging roller-coaster for me and it was very hard to stay positive. Looking at myself in the mirror and not even being able to recognise myself was painful. I almost felt like I was grieving the old me - the me before the accident. I struggled to believe that this was reality and I knew my road to recovery was going to be a tough one. I wished that I could just be better again, but I knew that I had to dig deep, keep fighting and stop looking at where I wished I was and instead be thankful for where I was and take one day at a time. This made me truly grateful for the things that I had in my life.

I was spoon fed for a few days and was on a liquid/non-chew diet for seven weeks. I struggled to talk, couldn’t drink through straws and had to sacrifice many of the things I loved the most in life. I lost 5kgs within two weeks. It was hard watching my body fade away and having no control over it. I wasn’t allowed to train or exercise and one of my greatest fears was being told by doctors that I may not be able to play rugby again. Sometimes we take for granted the simple things in life such as eating, showering, brushing teeth, or even walking, seeing and talking properly. All these little things I couldn’t do. It’s scary to think that everything can be taken away from you within the blink of an eye.

If it wasn’t for the support from my family and the determination I had inside to come back as a stronger person physically and mentally, then I don’t know where I’d be today. So…, if you are ever faced with adversity, believe in yourself and do all that is necessary to get yourself through it. Find that thing, that person or whatever that you care for and do it not only for yourself but for them. Don’t forget, you are not alone and there are more people in your life than you may realise, who care and are more than willing to help you. Instead of getting discouraged about how far you still have to go, learn to celebrate your progress along the way. Learn to pick out the positives not the negatives. Don’t look at how far you’ve got to go, instead look at how far you’ve come.

I was lucky that day and I feel very blessed to be standing here, sharing my story with you. I experienced a life-changing event that day and I give thanks for the many miracles and people that have helped me get to where I am today. I still have a few steps of recovery to climb, but with patience, commitment, determination and hard work, I am aiming to make a full recovery. In the meantime, I am grateful to have a loving and supportive whanau who have been there for me every step of the way. And to my friends and the many others who have encouraged, helped and supported me on my journey to recovery, I want to say thank you.

There is more to my story as well, but it is not yet time to tell it.

Indeed, sometimes some things need to stay close, personal and hidden from others.

Part of my story involves my personal encounter with God and maybe one day I will share it with you.

Today though, I just want to say thanks be to God for my life and to encourage you to trust in God and with that I want to leave you with something that stuck with me and helped me get through my journey of overcoming adversity, which was don’t look at the staircase you have to climb instead look at the steps in front of you and take one step at a time.

(Tiaki received a standing ovation from his peers for this sermon, which is heartfelt and wouldn’t have been easy to write, as it would have required him to relive that terrible day and the days since while he has worked so hard on his recovery.)