It’s pretty rough, but I think the use of a framing device works well to get the story across.
Behind a lectern Eli Murn cuts an impressive figure. At over six-foot in height and a with a face which conceals his 29 years it is only when he begins to walk that you notice his limp; a constant reminder of the brain injury he received after a car accident five years ago.
He is behind the lectern in order to tell the story of a man placed back on the right track. He starts bluntly. “This is no holds barred.”
Eli is an only child and gained the love of competing early on. At the age of five he was already playing in under-eleven lacrosse teams and after spending much of primary school living a multi-sport lifestyle by fifteen he began to focus to volleyball.
“I was confident and I was a smart arse, but I had the skills to back it up.” He says. Eli was considered a potential Olympic volleyball player and when he dropped out of school in year eleven it seemed that this would allow him to concentrate on his sport.
This was not the case and Eli had began using drugs, first recreationally, then as he says “I enjoyed it so much there was no way I was going to turn it down next time.”
He stopped playing formal sport and for a few years Eli worked to fund his adrenalin-filled lifestyle. “Whenever I could I would take a risk… the bigger the risk, the better.”
In May 2004 an under-the-influence Eli was taking his girlfriend for a night-time drive in the Adelaide Hills when he lost control and crashed into a tree. Eli succinctly retells it as “Skid. Bang. Tree. Brain Injury.”
The now ex-girlfriend was unharmed although Eli says that having seen photos of the crash site he was surprised anyone survived. He was taken to Flinders Medical Centre where he spent four weeks in intensive care and even though there were no long-term physical injuries he was given a fifty per cent chance of survival.
“It was known from the start that I had a brain injury, but nobody knew what that would mean.” After another four weeks at Flinders Medical Centre Eli was moved to Hampstead Brain Injury Rehab Unit where he spent nine months.
Eli then spent a further eleven months at home relearning simple life skills such as walking, talking and eating as well as more complicated tasks such as being able to concentrate and think clearly.
It was during his many hours of speech therapy that he was made aware of the Brain Injury Network of South Australia (BINSA) who felt that telling his story in public would not only help the community, but Eli’s own recovery.
Eli’s brain injury affects his motor skills – resulting in the limp – and fatigue is an issue as his brain needs to work much harder to concentrate. These can be improved, but acquired brain injuries like Eli’s are permanent.
It is clear even during the small amount of time spent with the man that he is not here to preach, and that the point of his speeches are to ask people to “make the better decision, and be proud of that.”
He makes many references to “this life”, showing that he sees everything that has happened after the accident as his second life, his second chance.
While there are obviously regrets, especially in relation to the wasted sporting opportunities, he looks towards creating nothing but positives in the future.
“I am who I am because of my past. I know and accept that” he says. “I’m happier with who I am now.”
When asked about what Eli thinks his life would be like without the accident, he says frankly that “I certainly wouldn’t have a smile on my face.” He wryly observes that he “was on the wrong road, and it had trees in it.”
Eli is now giving on average two speeches a week, mostly at high schools, and has been studying at Tafe, although this is challenging due to short-term memory problems.
He sees these speeches and other volunteer work through BINSA and the Metropolitan Fire Service as his debt to society and that he wants to make up for the negativity and chaos caused in his “first life”.
The presentation ends and Eli Murn steps out from behind the lectern. As people scurry to retrieve the extra information which BINSA provided Eli begins the walk up the stairs to the lecture hall doors. He is still impressive but after hearing his story it is for completely different reasons.