Volunteer profile: Lifesaving is for everyone

Mornington Life Saving Club (LSC) member Bobby Bajram has been climbing metaphorical mountains since age 13. Now, he is planning to be the first Australian with a disability to summit Mt Everest and Life Saving Victoria (LSV) is behind him.

When he was only 13, Bobby was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Although the diagnosis was a lot to take in for a teenager, it was in this life-changing moment that his goal was born.

“I told my doctor, ‘I’m not going to die, I’m going to walk to the top of the world and see the blue sky’,” Bobby said.

Four decades on and with the help of LSV lifesavers, the countdown to Everest is on, with Bobby’s climb scheduled for March 2023 and in preparation, he has already summited four of the other highest peaks in the world.

With no snowcapped mountains in Melbourne for Bobby to train on, seven years ago he turned to the tough terrain of the sand dunes at Woolamai Beach to replicate that of the Himalayas.

Although Bobby’s motto is “make the impossible possible”, he still needs assistance to train safely, which is why the lifesavers at Woolamai Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) began helping him to walk up the sand dunes and paddle several kilometres on a rescue board.

Now Bobby is a member at Mornington LSC, where his daughter Annie is a nipper and where he does the bulk of his Everest training.

Bobby Bajram (centre) with Mornington LSC lifesavers.

“Every time I’m out training, there are at least two volunteer lifesavers there to keep me safe when I’m paddling or using my walking sticks to climb the sand dunes,” Bobby said.

“Walking in the sand is very much like walking in the snow, so the beach is the ideal place to practice, but without the lifesavers there to support me, I’d only get halfway up the mountain.

“It’s such a warm feeling knowing that on a beautiful weekend when they could be at the beach with their own families, instead they are training with me so I can feel safe.”

When Bobby was first diagnosed with MS as a teenager, he said there wasn’t much knowledge about the struggles of people with disabilities doing simple things like enjoying a day at the beach.

Now, with programs like Starfish Nippers, which will be run at 14 Victorian lifesaving clubs in season 2021-22, and the work Accessible Beaches does to improve infrastructure, equipment and attitude to make beaches accessible for the entire community, Bobby said there has been a shift in dynamic.

“Programs like Starfish Nippers give people with disabilities the opportunity to get into the water with volunteer lifesavers to keep an eye on them and it’s no longer a foreign or dangerous situation,” he said.

“Confidence breathes activity, so to have these programs to give people with disabilities the opportunity to go and experience the beach is priceless.

“Mornington’s accessible infrastructure gives me confidence to head down and enjoy the water, knowing I have an inclusive community supporting me.”

With Victoria’s beaches as Bobby’s training ground and happy place, he encourages Victorians of all ages and abilities to have a go at water activities.

“The beach will become your new best friend, you’ll feel good going into the water, but even better coming out,” he said.

“Everybody, from toddlers to teenagers to seniors, you can do it. With the lifesavers on our side to make swimming more accessible, your beach visits will become a habit that you’ll look forward to committing to.”

You can follow Bobby’s journey from Mills Beach, Mornington to Mount Everest on Facebook and Instagram, and find an accessible beach near you at https://accessiblebeaches.com/directory#accessible-beach-directory

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