Alex McKinnon was a guest speaker at the PSRCN Life after Injury Seminar hosted by QBE Workers Compensation on behalf of icare self insurance.

He shared his life experiences with Senior Government Workers Compensation Managers to offer a new perspective on recovery from workplace injuries.

When Alex McKinnon suffered a spinal cord injury from a lifting tackle while playing professional rugby league for the Newcastle Knights in Melbourne in 2014, his life was changed forever.

At just 22 years old, McKinnon was suddenly confronted with extraordinary challenges, facing a journey ahead of rehabilitation and the transition to a new routine and way of life.

Now with a view to continually challenge himself by breaking out of his comfort zone and investing in his future, McKinnon shares key learnings from his experience of life after injury.

Keep perspective

Beginning a career in professional rugby league at a young age meant McKinnon was part of a tight-knit, competitive circle, where his focus was dedicated to improving his game.

“But at the time I never sat back, soaked it in and enjoyed the journey for what it was,” he explained.

“And after I was injured, I didn’t have a great deal of perspective. Now, listening to podcasts, attending conferences and investing in myself in new ways has helped me find different things to enjoy in my life.”

For McKinnon, the most significant lesson learnt early on was during his stay in hospital. He explained how the breakthrough in striking conversations with new people was a key step behind finding a positive outlook on his situation.

“There were another 20 people in the spinal ward and seeing their stories and journeys made me recognise how lucky I was and how the situation I was in was very fortunate,” he said.

“It was only 4 weeks after my injury happened, but I had a really strong support network in my family and friends. To see other people’s journeys and the support that some of them didn’t have, made me realise how lucky I was.

“Having that outlook on life and finding gratitude very early on in my injury really changed the journey I was going to be on.”

 Focus on what you can control

In life, there are many circumstances that simply cannot be controlled and since his injury, McKinnon now believes it’s important and healthy to only focus on what we can control.              

“Since my injury, there are many things out of my control. Daily tasks now take longer than they used to in my routine and for example, I can’t jump straight off a plane – I have to wait until the end,” he explained.

“In my transition back to work and society I used to get frustrated that some people can simply jump on a surfboard and go for a surf. Or could easily hop in a car and go for a drive. I sometimes felt like a hindrance or that I disadvantaged people by being around.

“But by taking the approach to feel comfortable in myself and understanding that not everything in our control, you don’t let the little things hinder your day.”

Invest in your future

McKinnon explained how an initial conversation that was had at his rehabilitation clinic in the Gold Coast was tough at the time, but has since worked to help him come to terms with what it means to invest in the future.

“A nurse said to forget my old life, to move on and start a new one. At the time, I took this harshly because I loved my life, the people in it and the person that I was.

“However, I learnt to understand as I moved forward with my journey and met new people that a lot had changed in my life and I couldn’t do the things I used to be able to do,” he said.

As a result, McKinnon learnt the importance of seeking growth in new ways, including his initial return to work in a recruitment role for the Knights in 2015.

“I grew so much as a person going back to work,” he reflected. “To have that daily routine that allowed me to get out of house, meet different people, have conversations and grow in a new area was a massive growth process in my life and my journey.

“I think it’s something that people really need to do. Finding that purpose and growing everyday by working and achieving things is so important. I grew so much as a person and I retained a lot more confidence in myself in returning to work.”

Discovering other passions has also been an essential tool for McKinnon in his life post-injury.  

“I can’t play golf, go for a run with my dog or swim at the beach, so I’ve had to find time to try invest in myself in other ways and it’s finding and doing different, little things that make your life enjoyable. I’ve started going to art galleries and I really enjoy that.”