On a brisk June evening, I head out to the Wantirna Football Club, to do a road safety presentation on behalf of Road Trauma Support Services Victoria. The mist lingers over the large spotlights on the oval and as I exit my car, I’m engulfed with gritty teenager football boots. They run from the trampled grass into the clubhouse laughing and shouting at the same time, eager from the smell of pizza and Pepsi, which fills the air.
I let out a sigh then scan the surrounding faces of youth all eager with sweat and burnt out energy searching over them for Sally, a volunteer speaker. Sally’s son, Charlie was killed in a road crash and she now shares her road trauma story to change behaviours and attitudes on our roads.
Sally and I have come to speak with the 40 plus energetic teenagers, their parents and coaches. We both work together to deliver a road safety presentation in the hope that no one is touched by road trauma.
“This brings back memories of my Charlie and the innocence of youth. We are going to be eaten up along with the pizza. I can’t remember the last time I was in a room with this many young faces, let alone talk to them about my story”, says Sally.
We smile to each other with encouragement; it is a tremendous and heartrending adjustment you must make to a new world after road trauma. Sharing a personal narrative to a football youth crowd is not an easy task; my heart flickers with admiration for the openness and courage that Sally displays. Grief can be many things, but it can also be purposeful.
As the last bits of mozzarella stretch from the pizza box, I am handed a microphone to commence our presentation.
I am the cheerleader warming up the crowd before the big game. Choices are made, statistics are delivered, short films are shown and discussion is elicited between sips of Pepsi, just as the whole team suffers when a player is injured or penalised for making a poor choice or split-second decision in a game, we all suffer when someone does exactly this and is injured on our roads. The ripple travels far and wide, and time has no boundaries for the flow-on effects.
Just like in a game, I feel the need for a quarter-time break or change of players. Sally’s trademark flame-red hair and daisy tattoo dedicated to Charlie, take to the centre of the room. The energetic teenagers slowly sit up in their chairs leaning forward and eyes fixed on Sally, her voice travels deep, her words melt and mould their way into each person in the room in a way that no statistic or video could do. It is honest, it fuses practical wisdom, it connects and reaches spaces that cannot be opened and it is courageous and loving.
The room applauds, the boxes of leftover pizza and rubbish are cleared away, parents gather around Sally to share their gratitude and thanks.
The air is harsh, and the cold hits us as we exit the clubrooms, although we stand and chat as the cold turns our breath into mist our souls are warm from the experience of reaching out to others to stay safe on our roads. Sally’s words, the bonds of a team, the spirit of kindness, the hope of zero road fatalities is caught in that moment and is what we are working towards. Our message has been passed on, and now the positive ripple begins.