In the great family that is Surf Life Saving, heroes are not always made in the water. Some win their personal Golds in other ways.
When the invitation came to commentate all the action at the recent Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, Jess Collins didn’t think twice before accepting. After having a ball on the mic at the State Champs, the Redhead SLSC competitor was found to be a natural at calling all the race action and bringing her magic to Aussies was the obvious next step.
Recovering from a life-changing accident less than a year ago which has left her wheel-chair bound for now, loving parents Sandy and Pete couldn’t be more excited that Jess can use her expert knowledge and experience as an elite level surf athlete to stay involved in the sport she loves.
“Peter and I thought she might be a bit hesitant but straight away she loved it. After the first day she got home and said ‘I really like doing this.’,” said Sandy Collins.
“We’re so grateful for the opportunity. She knows so many of the competitors and I think it’s really important for someone commentating who knows the sport and loves the sport.”
Jess said she was having a ball on the commentary team, although she admits struggling to sound knowledgeable during some of the beach events!
“Just not Flags please! I have no idea what to say about the beach events yet, but I’ll get there. It’s a big learning curve but hopefully I can get into it a bit more because I’m loving it,” said Jess.
On her first visit back to the Gold Coast since her terrible surfing accident, Jess said the trip to Aussies was bittersweet.
“Ever since the accident I’ve had so many people from Surf Life Saving come and support me. It’s so overwhelming. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not glad I was part of this organisation and that I can still be part of it now and that I have the opportunity to continue to be involved.,” she said.
Peter Collins agrees the support Jess and the whole family have experienced is overwhelming.
“All the time we were in rehab with Jess, there have been so many people who have stepped up to help and support us. Sunflowers for Jess came from one of her best friends Maddy Barlow who set up a GoFundMe page and from there it’s escalated,” said Peter.
“Kim and Brett Richardson from Ohana jumped on board and produced the sunflower swimwear which has raised over $21,000 to help Jess. The Redhead surf club and Hunter Branch got the whole team kitted out in it. When you look at so many people on the beach with Jess’s Ohana sunflowers swimmers it’s just amazing. It’s uplifting.”
People they don’t even know have come out of the woodwork and provided support such as donating materials or time to modify the Collins’ home to be wheelchair accessible so Jess would be comfortable and able to get around independently.
And support of a different kind has also highlighted Jess’s brave fight in the national media with close friend and fellow surf competitor Jett Kenny choosing Sunflowers For Jess as his nominated charity on Dancing With The Stars.
Competing at Aussies for Queensland club Alexandra Headlands, Jett said it was a huge hit to close friends and the entire Surf Life Saving community to learn of Jess’s situation.
“When you find out something terrible has happened to someone it’s bad but when it’s someone as incredible as Jess, it’s devastating,” said Jett. “The process that Jess and her family are going through is expensive. I just thought if there was any way I could raise money to help I was going to help her.”
While Jess still has a huge mountain to climb in her physical recovery, her sense of humour and bone-dry wit are firmly intact.
“When Jess found out I was on Dancing With The Stars, the first thing she said was ‘but you can’t dance!’,” recalls Jett. “She came to watch me film the show in week four and when she got out of the car she said ‘you know you suck at dancing’.”
Jess will need to draw on every ounce of that positivity and strength for her recovery effort. Determination from a lifetime of competition will help enormously according to her parents and Ironman champion brother, Dan.
“All three of our kids have been extremely competitive. From day one it’s been on, from triathlons around the pool and timing each other to get things done. Dan and Jess have always been competitive. They push one another hard but are so beautifully supportive of each other,” said Sandy Collins.
“Without the kids’ support, this would have been very hard for Peter and I. We are a tight-knit family and always have been there for each other and that’s what’s getting us through.”
For Jess, the race won’t be over until she steps across the finish line.
“Steps are literally where I want to get to. That’s the goal. It’s going to be a really long journey, everything is very fresh and it’s a very big learning experience,” she said.
“I’m going really good and getting stronger and stronger. I think because I had my accident in the ocean, it’s something I love doing all the time and I’ve realised there’s a whole life out there for me to live and I may as well keep going and carrying on.”
Support Jess and the Collins family by visiting sunflowersforjess.com