The incredible moment a former abseiling instructor who lost the use of her legs in 2013 after a ‘simple operation on a bulging disc’ was able to dangle off the side of a cliff in her wheelchair has been caught on camera.
Stunning images show Sarah Jane Staszak, 43, with her son Hamish exploring Australia’s scenic Blue Mountains National Park.
The abseiling experience was part of a project by The heART Project which included a full photo shoot highlighting the excitement of the day.
‘I guess the biggest thing for me seeing those photos is knowing if I never had that surgery I would be out there jumping around with my boy,’ Ms Staszak said.
The ‘simple procedure’ was to stop pain caused by the damaged disk but when the mother-of-one adventure-junkie woke up in her hospital bed she couldn’t move.
But she hasn’t let that stop her from having adventures, which is why when she was offered the opportunity to dangle from the side of a cliff in her wheel chair she said yes.
‘Hamish and I loved our experience on the shoot. It was a new opportunity for both of us to be involved in such a fascinating art project and to work with such inspiring artists,’ Ms Staszak said.
The mother was devastated after losing mobility in her legs and upper body – because she feared she would no longer be able to embrace her young son, who was just five at the time.
But speaking to Daily Mail Australia she revealed her upper body strength has improved.
‘I can cuddle him and he can cuddle – and climb all over me,’ she said.
The strong bond the two share is captured in the photographs which have been released by the photographers involved just in time for mother’s day.
The set include two photographs by viral artist Benjamin Von Wong, who flew in to Australia from America for the project as well as three composite images by Australian photographer Karen Alsop.
Two breathtaking behind-the-scenes videos shows the effort put in to making the beautiful set of prints by each artist.
Ms Alsop’s photographs show the mother walking again and are made of a series of on-set photographs and studio shots.
‘I didn’t really know what to expect when they asked me to be part of the project,’ the mother said.
‘But Hamish and I were blown away when we saw the finished photographs.’
The shoots were done over two days – one onset in the Blue Mountains – where helpers wheeled Ms Staszak over the walking trails to the cliff side and another in Karen’s studio.
‘The day we went out to the cliff was aweful, it was pretty ordinary weather – but it was Hamish’s favourite day because he was happy playing in the mud and puddles while we set up.
‘I loved doing the stuff in the studio because we were always on the move,’ she said.
There are two finished photographs from the on-site shoot. The first shows the mother sitting in her wheelchair supervising her son from above.
But in the second both mother and son are dangling on ropes beside the steep cliff face. Behind the scenes shots show photographer Von Wong dangling a few metres away capturing the wonderful moment.
The studio shots have an adventurous feel to them and show the mother walking and running with her son.
These were achieved with a series of in studio shots placed over scene shots from the day before. The mother who has not let her lack of mobility get in the way of adventure wants to raise awareness for accessibility for people in wheelchairs.
‘I get it because before this happened to me I didn’t think about it either.
‘But people need to know just one step is enough to stop me from being able to do everyday things.
‘Just one step can stop me from being able to have a coffee at a café, or do shopping for myself.’
The mother lives in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains and is raising funds to help make every shop wheelchair accessible.
Ms Staszak’s strength is what attracted Ms Alsop into doing the project.
‘I just couldn’t imagine waking up one day and being unable to walk, let alone even hold my children,’ she said.
|The photographs in front of the green screen would soon be added to Karen’s on-site shots to make the finished images|
‘What SJ went through, the shock, the sadness, breaks my heart but her perseverance through it all is inspiring – I wanted to capture that love between SJ and Hamish… that love moves mountains.’
Mr Wong agreed: ‘I love sharing experiences with people – and having the opportunity to connect with SJ and to get her inspiring story out there was something that was really special.’
The project was proudly supported by major The heART Project sponsor Adobe Australia. Additional support was provided by EIZO, Kayell Australia, the Blue Mountains Adventure Company and a team of amazing volunteers.