Home » Catalyst Anthology: Nicole Smith

Catalyst Anthology: Nicole Smith

An Interview with Dave Jacka

Nicole Smith


Nicole Smith was a 2014 Writeability Fellow. She loves talking to interesting people and working on her laptop in hipster cafes. You can see the results of her passion for the art of the interview below and in her blog, blankpagesandemptyspaces.com, where you can also find an extended version of the story below about engineer and adventurer Dave Jacka.



‘Sometimes the biggest challenge is people’s perceptions of disability.’

Dave Jacka was four days short of his twentieth birthday when a motorcycle accident left him with C5 complete spinal cord quadriplegia and 6% physical function. He was paralysed from the armpits down, with limited arm function (biceps but no triceps), no use of his fingers and inability to regulate his body temperature. As an active teen who enjoyed football, surfing and skiing, there were days when he wondered what his future would hold – would he watch television on the couch all day waiting for family to come home and help him to bed? When adjusting to using a wheelchair, what helped Dave both physically and emotionally was focussing on one goal at a time. When frustration got the better of him, he waited a day or two and then approached the problem with a refreshed perspective. It was this perseverance that helped Dave learn how to transfer into bed just over two years after coming home post his accident. Learning to transfer was a turning point for Dave in terms of his view and attitude towards his wheelchair and disability – he felt that he was no longer defined or limited by his disability.

In 1988, at the time of Dave’s accident, ‘the only sport a person with quadriplegia could do was blow darts’. Wheelchair rugby emerged in the early 1990s. Although the bash, crash, and competitive nature of rugby appealed to Dave, his interest was soon split between rugby and target shooting. He achieved a gold medal at the Oceania Shooting Championships in 1991 before his passion for physicality and team sport drew him back to rugby. He played at a national level then participated in the World Championships in Switzerland in 1995. The following year Dave attended the Olympic Games in Atlanta to take part in a rugby demonstration game.

Following his sporting career, Dave, who worked as a carpenter before his accident retrained in engineering and achieved a Graduate Diploma in Project Management. This study aligned with his practical problem-solving creative mindset. At the Avalon Airshow in 2005, Dave was reminded of his childhood dream to pilot a plane. He modified a Jabiru J230 recreational aircraft to allow him to fly independently around Australia, including blowing in and out of a tube to control the speed.

Since then, he has kayaked 2,226km over eighty-nine gruelling days down the Murray River and retraced part of the Burke & Wills Expedition route on his handcycle. He also hopes to fly over to New Zealand. Since his adventures, he has worked to combat disability stereotypes and help people with disability reach their potential. His second self-published book ‘Honouring the Chair’ is being released this year.

Although Dave is uncomfortable being labelled an inspiration, he concedes ‘We’re all advocates if people see us out in the community, changing perceptions and educating people.’



<-- Catalyst Anthology: Samantha Weerasekera                                                                       Catalyst Anthology: Jessica Obersby –>
Scroll to Top