The Home that Coffs Built – Allan and Julie Mccabe

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Ten years after a sporting injury that changed life forever for their entire family, Allan and Julie McCabe have a chance to reflect on their journey.



The McCabes are eternally grateful to the Coffs community, and say that their home, the ‘house that Coffs built’, has had a wonderful positive impact on their lives.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, please tell us what happened 10 years ago that truly changed the course of your lives …

Allan’s Injury was ten years ago on 31 August 2002. Allan sustained a spinal cord injury during the grand final in 2002 at Kempsey. He was playing Hooker and packed down for a scrum.

Upon engagement of the two packs, Al was injured and fell to the ground crying: “MAYDAY”, the international code for help on a rugby field. The call also signals that no-one is to move the patient until medical help has arrived and an assessment has been carried out.

Al instantly knew upon engagement that he was in big trouble, and he also realised his neck had been broken, as he was paralysed from the neck down. Many thoughts went through his mind; the first being survival. His wife, daughter and unborn child were his focus, and getting stronger and rehabilitating so he could share a life with them was of utmost importance.

Lying on that field waiting for the helicopter to arrive was so scary and as he entered into the unknown, a fellow Rugby player from Dorrigo went under the sheet with Al to be with him and comfort him. The updraft from the helicopter would have caused major problems for Al’s breathing, so they had to cover him completely. I know many people in the crowd thought that Al had passed away when this happened.

I was not at the game, as I was nearly six months pregnant and teaching full-time. I was very tired and had a six year old to look after. At 1 o’clock that afternoon, the Australian Rugby Union chaplain called me, and this was the first time that I actually understood the severity of what had happened to him. The chaplain went on to become our very good friend, and he spent many hours with Al during his rehabilitation.

Al was in Sydney rehabilitating for the better part of twelve months. I lived in the rehab unit houses, and then three months later gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who is almost turning ten. Bethany’s entrance into the world was beautiful and touched the hearts of the doctors and midwives involved. Not long after Bethany was born, I moved back to Coffs Harbour with my parents and our 6 year old daughter.

Who was involved with constructing the house your family now shares?

The House that Coffs Built project was an amazing adventure. Local builder Brian Hopwood and Natalie Hoy, who has become a most treasured friend to both of us, took on this project. They saw the need and did something about it. They both inspired others to join the project and become a part of a phenomenal team.

People gave of themselves, time, resources, materials, lunches, morning teas, beers and friendly support. The Trust Committee, a group of the most amazing people, gathered together under the leadership of Allan Sparkes and Dwayne Vignes and began fundraising in many ways. Members of the group we will forever be indebted too: Brian and Maureen Kennedy, Narelle Corless, Julie Wills, Ngaire Robinson, Jenni Ryan, Natalie Hoy, Brendan Hoy, Donna Parkins, Bruce Worboys and Heather Mackinnon. This group of dedicated friends raised enough money to purchase a modified vehicle, a block of land and assisted in building the house. It is so hard to mention just who played a hand in the building of our beautiful home. There are so many, and I don’t want to miss one single person.

Describe the house – how long did it take to build, and what do you most love about it?

Our house is purpose built and although it doesn’t have that appearance, it is most definitely a place where Al feels completely at home and fairly independent. It is where he feels comfortable spending his days. We have been in the house just over four years, and every person who steps over the threshhold speaks of the peace and purpose they feel instantly.

We love everything about our home, and we know we are so lucky to have such awesome support. The house has made such a difference to our family. We can live as a normal family can to a certain extent. The real difference is for Al; he has room to move and can do so without destroying the place.

Was it initially a surprise to you how the community rallied behind you both? Have you seen other examples of this generosity in action since within the local community?

The community in which we live is so supportive; it has never waned. This community is forever helping someone in need, and they need to be commended. Al has the most amazing friends, and they all love him. Wherever he goes, people stop and talk to him.

What’s daily life like for your family these days … no doubt you have your share of challenges, so how do you cope with these?

We have our challenges like normal families do, but I guess ours are just a little different. Time is so short, and each day is so busy! Yes, there are many extra things that have to be done, but we all try to work together to ensure our family exists. We have to take into account the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of everyone that lives in our home.

Is there anyone else in particular you’d like to thank or acknowledge for their support?

There are so many people to thank and to continually thank that I would hate to forget anyone … let’s just say that our family and friends, both new and old, are the reasons we make it through each day! Our house often looks like a car sales yard, as many people come to visit or volunteer on a daily basis.

Ten years on, how have your individual perspectives now changed on life?

Our individual perspectives on life have changed immensely since that day ten years ago. We live each day as if it were our last; we try to make the most out of opportunities that come our way; we try not to waste a second whingeing or whining about what we don’t have; we try to do something for others who are worse off than we are. These two quotes, both from authors unknown, sum up our thoughts on life today:

“Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be. Because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do.”

“The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.”

We are truly lucky! Yes, it takes three hours every day for Al to just get out of bed and be ready for the day, but he does it each and every day. When others would feel like just staying there and saying, “What is the point?” Al strives to be his best. He is keen to ‘bring it on …’

Thanks Julie and Allan.


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