Eleven years ago local man Barney Miller was involved in an accident that left him a quadriplegic. His determination has seen him rise above these circumstances, and now he is the face of the Barney Miller Surf Classic, which every year raises much needed funds and support for people living with a disability. Barney tells us about the event and his own personal rehabilitation.
How did the Barney Miller Surf Classic come about?
A good friend of mine, Joel Bath, started the surf classic originally to raise money for me and medical costs after my accident.
Each year after that he kept it going, and when he moved away I took on the role of organising it. After the first year, when the money went to me, each year we have found another person in a similar situation who’s been in an accident to raise funds for. It’s been running for 11 years now.
> Tell us a bit about the event.
It’s probably got the most elite surfers from around the east coast of Australia. We get people from Sydney through to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. It’s one of the biggest and longest running charity surf comps around.
We get surfers of all ages and with all kinds of boards, and it’s really cool to see different people involved. This year it will hit Sawtell on the 6 and 7 November.
We were lucky enough this year to have Hogs Breath Café as a major sponsor. They have said they want to take this contest to the next level – it’s going to be unbelievable.
The prize money has been jacked up this year, with $3,000 for the Open Men’s and $500 for the Open Women’s. We have never had prize money for the girls before, so we’re stoked to help the girls out and get a few more involved.
> What is involved with the fundraising aspect of the event?
We have never really had to actually search for someone to support. It could be a friend of a friend or a friend of a family who has just had an accident. So we check out their situation, meet them and their family and ask if they mind if we donate all the money that we make at this year’s event to them.
I haven’t had anyone say no yet; they are usually very appreciative. I’m just stoked to be able to help someone.
The funds we raise come from everywhere – from the contest, raffles, barbecues, and a few companies come on board with sponsorship money and they donate prizes.
The last few years we have had a charity auction, which has been a phenomenal success. I have friends who are on the tour at the moment who donate boards, which is a good investment.
The contest is still very important and it’s the best part of the weekend, but now we’ve introduced a few new things, like the auction and the Miss Barney Miller Bikini Contest, which my girlfriend Katie organised.
It’s not just for surfers anymore; it’s for party goers, girls wanting to be models, and anyone, really. It’s become a massive event, and I’m lucky to have my name to it.
> Who will you be donating the money to this year?
A young guy from Coffs Harbour called Duncan Sawyer. He was riding his pushbike down a hill and went over the handle bars and broke his neck when he hit the road. It’s good to have someone local. We support people from all round Australia, but having a local guy is good, because a lot of local businesses jump on board and are happier to help out.
Duncan is currently in rehabilitation. I’ve been speaking to his mum, who has been a great help. She’s been running around frantically picking up auction items and helping out where she can. We are hoping to have Duncan here for the weekend, just to get him involved.
He is a 19-year-old guy with a lot of motivation, and after showing him photos of how far I have come, he is really excited to go to Project Walk – a rehab program in the US.
As a part of the fundraising, I’m organising for him to go to Project Walk, and we’ll give him the remainder of the money so he can spend it over there.
> You’ve been involved with Project Walk yourself as part of your own rehab. How has the program helped you?
It’s a mind blowing program! It’s a kinesiology based repetitive exercise program, and it’s both physically and mentally draining. It’s pretty much just re-training your body to walk again, and depending on how long it’s been since your accident, there are phenomenal results.
I went there last year for the first time with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. You see people in their early stages of rehab, and you see people walking or standing for the first time too. You see all these stages, which is an amazing thing and I can relate to it a lot. Everyone is there for the same reason, and everyone feeds off each other’s motivation.
So I did that last year for the first time, and I had amazing results with the muscles in my lower body. It’s been over 10 years since my accident, and the things I was getting back … they were blown away.
They couldn’t believe my body was responding so well to the treatment 10 years after my injury. For me to hear that meant it was only a matter of time before I could retrain my brain to my body.
This year was amazing, so I decided to spend another 3 months in California, which isn’t a bad place to spend the summer, and this time was just another level. You go to a program and they have you working on your core, as well as your legs.
I think I went with a different attitude; the first time I wanted to walk straight away, but then going back this year I understood the program more. You can’t run before you walk and crawl, and that’s what I have learned.
I have just started doing exactly what they told me to do and opening my mind a lot more. It was amazing. As soon as I let go and stopped putting pressure on myself, good things started happening.
I was getting a lot more flickers of muscles in my lower legs, and the day before I left I actually stood up for the first time under my own weight. I was just holding on to the trainer and standing for the first time in 11 years. It was such an amazing feeling. The trainer told me to look in the mirror to the side and I could see myself just standing with no help. I could hear someone starting to sob behind me, and it was my girlfriend Kate; she just broke down.
That’s 11 years post injury, so it just goes to show what’s possible. It’s definitely reignited a huge motivational flame in me and I know that I don’t have to stop now until I’m actually walking again – so I’m just going to go hard at it.
> What words of encouragement can you give others living with a disability?
Never give up. Don’t stop, because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You hear people say that a lot when they don’t understand the meaning it, but actually having experienced it myself and knowing what’s possible, I can say there’s nothing stopping you from getting back on your feet.
> Thank you Barney.
For more information on the Barney Miller Surf Classic, and his fundraising efforts, visit his website: