CHASING your dreams and overcoming lifechanging obstacles is something Lismore pilot Nathan Parker knows all about.
It is one of the reasons why the Invictus Games gold medallist was named NSW Young Australian of the Year
Parker, 25, is a public speaker, mentor, flight instructor and now aspiring to provide joy flights for sick children.
His life changed forever in 2015 when a military bus accident left him badly injured and his left hand had to be amputated.
He also had tendon damage to his right hand and multiple facial lacerations which he still carries today.
Despite his injuries, Parker returned to civilian flying in three months, resuming military and university duties within seven months.
"Five years ago I was laying in a hospital bed with no idea of what my life was going to look like," Parker said.
"I was very lucky that early in my recovery I was visited by fellow amputee Paul de Gelder.
"He gave me a profound sense of hope that I could still do things despite my injuries and that lying there in the hospital bed wasn't the end of my journey.
"So for me going forward ever since that day, my massive motivation was to try and be an inspiration for just one other person.
"If I can help just one person facing their darkest of days and let them know that there is light at the end of the tunnel then that's an amazing thing for me.
Parker was proud to share the stage with the likes of Shane Fitzsimmons and other award winners at the ceremony in Sydney last week.
"It was surreal and something I never thought would happen," he said
"I thought the organisers must have had the wrong number when they said I'd made the top four.
"It was a really special evening with so many incredible people in one spot.
"You look around the room and wonder how you got there.
"A lot of them I'd seen on TV and to mingle with them and learn about their experiences and what they've overcome was pretty special.
"I'm looking forward to Canberra and the national finals and seeing more of these incredible people share their stories."
Parker was the first upper-limb amputee in the Australian Defence Force Academy's history to complete his final 12 months and graduate.
After completing his degree in 2017, he was medically discharged in 2019 to become a commercial pilot.
He now works as a senior RA-Aus flying instructor in Lismore, obtaining his commercial pilot's licence and achieving his aerobatic endorsement.
"It's all been really rewarding, in all honesty I just see myself as a normal guy trying to make the most of the situation I found myself in," Parker said.
"I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many opportunities pop up along the way.
"Without the overwhelming support of the community, particularly here in Lismore, none of this would have been possible.
"There were so many people that have helped, even in the smallest of ways to push me along."
Part of that, helped him represent Australia in the Invictus Games in Canada 2017 and Sydney 2018, winning nine medals including three gold in Sydney.
He competed in running and indoor rowing events and brought home 17 medals from two USA Warrior Games.
"I've actually decided to step away from the Invictus Games," Parker said.
"I'm lucky to have got so much out of that and I'm moving out of it to give other people the chance to compete now.
"I'd never been on a rowing machine but Invictus all about trying new things and supporting each other.
"It's not so much about the medals, it's the recovery and journey you have along the way.
"Sport gave me an outlet to get my life back on track and the ability to keep moving forward.
"That's part of what I'm trying to get across in the mentoring program I'm with now in Queensland.
"I'm working with youth that have had amputations and I take some of them up with me for a flight.
"They may not necessarily want to be pilots but it can provide that spark for them to chase whatever it is they want to do in life."
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