A story of love, loss, recovery... and rowing.
This is Dean and Suz Neal:
When they're not travelling the world and posting photographs of their adventures on facebook in a very effective effort to make their mates jealous, they can be found doing this:
So when the Neals dug deep to donate to a new boat at the WA Rowing Club, there was much rejoicing.
Most of Dean and Suz's mates know they are a beautiful couple with a beautiful family who still, after almost 30 years of marriage, are very much in love. So it wasn't hard to decide to name the boat in their honour.
The Trent Damon was named on June 14 at a short ceremony at the WA Rowing Club. And with permission, this is the story behind the name, as told by Dean Neal.
During mid 1993 (yep THAT long ago!) Suzanne during pregnancy developed Toxaemia/Preeclampsia and was seriously ill, as a result she landed in hospital for several weeks (you can imagine how THAT would go down with her lol)!
Due to the health risk to mum and baby, an emergency C-section was performed to deliver our first borne Damon... 9 weeks premature.
Thankfully the staff at King Edward were amazing. In a matter of a few weeks, Damon was later transferred to a regional private hospital (Kelmscott) and Suz was able to go home. A couple of weeks later after that, Damon came home too.
It was around this time I secured a career through my tertiary studies as an IT Support Office at PMH! My work was coming together, my family was at the time too!
Then on the morning of October 14, 1993 - only days after Damon had passed his medical with flying colours and was around 11 weeks old and with no warning, I woke up to go to work and kiss him on the cheek, I then discovered he had died. He was still warm to touch... it was THAT recent I had discovered him...
I was later told that Damon's premature birth had nothing to do with him dying to SIDS.
By this stage - he looked like a healthy, normal baby. That just made the rocky road, that much rockier.
In a panic, I woke Suzanne and rather than ring an ambulance, we rushed him into the car with us and drove to the Kelmscott Private Hospital that was quite close and bolted in through the front doors carrying Damon. The sight of Suze trying to deliver CPR to our baby at the time was something I will never, ever forget....horrible. Horrible.
As we arrived at the hospital, the staff were amazing in their efforts but it was ultimately efforts in vain.
It was a mortifying day to say the least. I was 23 at the time and to confront already having outlived a child was dreadful obviously. To see hospital staff crying, even the police sargent coming in to confirm death and seeing him sob uncontrollably and hugging us himself is seared in my brain, forever.
It was almost impossible to deal with. My work suffered, I couldn't even go outside without fear. Through it all, Suzanne was amazing, she let her emotions out from the start and was strong.
Then as Suzanne was pregnant again and almost to the year - October 1994 - Trent Damon Neal was born. 1997 saw our daughter Felicity born and thankfully these two are fit and strong and wonderful kids. We are very proud of them.
However, I still hadn't completely dealt with what had happened to us was partying hard, not watching what I was eating or drinking. In 1999 I noticed I had become a 125kg 'big boy' and decided I wanted to be a fit and healthy husband and Dad. I wanted to run after my kids basically - and catch them!
It was at this time Suzanne through her mate Deb Mason, decided to take up rowing at the West Australian Rowing Club (Westies) - and she suggested I come along too... knowing my new-found desire to lose weight and be healthier.
Over the next 18-months, I fell in love with the people at the West Australian Rowing Club and proceeded to lose 40kg over that period by rowing hard and erg-ing literally...my ass off!
For the first time in the longest time, I felt well in mind, body and spirit.
In 2001, I completed a Half Ironman Triathlon and rest assured that was as far removed from where I was a couple of years earlier than you could get!
Later that year, our family moved to Sydney for work reasons and we stopped rowing. However the desire to remain fit and healthy on the back of what I discovered at Westies remained. We moved around for a few years but through it all, we missed rowing. We really did. It was my favourite sport.
I have cycle-toured thousands of Ks... climbed Spanish Alps on a Mountain bike... but whenever we saw glassy, still water...anywhere... Suz and I would always remark "Man...we could row the hell out of that!"
Rowing recruits every muscle, joint, ligament and sinew. Also your soul... yes it requires commitment from even THAT during those assorted moments of lactic acid bliss.
What I discovered by rowing, was that it opened up new opportunities for Suzanne and I.
From not being able to even walk down a busy mall in 1993 due to fears and phobias brought on by the loss of Damon, to where I am directing, presenting and producing motorsport TV in front of hundreds of thousands of people is testament to what I learnt!
Then in 2012, my career saw me relocate back to Perth. As soon as we made that decision - Suz and I said straight up... "AWESOME, we can row again at Westies!"
As before, rowing at the West Australian Rowing Club is wonderful, enriching, relaxing and in some ways enlightening.
The values of togetherness, teamwork, mental strength and tenacity are always on show when you row in this environment.
The WARC Club is awesome, a wide array of personalities and people who are as 'family' to me already as anybody.
Bottom line - and Suz can speak for herself- for me... rowing opened my eyes all those years ago to make every day count...and get busy living - for friend and family....but most of all... for yourself.
We support this Red Nose Day regatta passionately... simply because I made the mistake all those years ago in NOT seeking counsel or help.
To lose a child in this dreadful way does not mean you are a bad parent... its instinct to appropriate blame on oneself when something like this happens. But it's not your fault.
Also I want friends and family of those who lose someone to SIDS to not stand back...to go and see these people, to hug these people, to tell them that you love them and that whilst you don't have all the answers as to why this happened, that you will always, always be there for them.
Also time does truly heal... though the scars of course, will remain as a timely reminder to live life. Simple.
We've been supporting the Red Nose Regatta for June 21 where we've invited rowers throughout Perth to buy a $2 red nose and put it on their bowball to raise awareness and funds for SIDS and Kids WA.
Check out this photo gallery of the boat naming - with thanks to Mike Smith for snapping on the day.