‘I hit rock bottom’: Surf hero’s inspiring road to recovery
His body was riddled with fractures, but Michael Bourne did not hesitate when he saved the lives of four people at North Wall Beach on January 24, 2019.
A horrific fall three months earlier had left him with multiple injuries - but it was just he and a sole bodyboarder on the unpatrolled beach that evening.
They noticed the four Korean visitors in trouble, and miraculously, they brought everyone back to shore alive and unharmed.
Two years later 50-year-old Mr Bourne is still swimming to save lives - he has achieved his dream of becoming a surf lifesaver and has undertaken several charity fundraisers such as the Starlight Super Swim.
This year marks the second in a row that he's been nominated for an Australia Day Award.
And while the rescue was a heroic feat, Mr Bourne admits it had left him damaged not just physically, but also mentally - the catalyst which led him on his path to helping others.
He likened his situation to the 'iceberg' analogy, saying not many saw the reality of his situation in the aftermath.
"After the rescue I went downhill - I hit rock bottom about three months after," Mr Bourne said.
"I used to wake up in the middle of the night with a choking sensation. I used to get the shakes and a dry mouth if a private number came up on my phone, or even if I went to the supermarket. I developed quite a lot of anxiety."
To begin his recovery, Mr Bourne started mindfulness mentoring and combined that with physical exercise, knocking out 10,000 laps of the pool in one year.
"At the beginning I could only walk back and forth in the pool everyday. But I had a lot of people encouraging me, including my wife. People on Facebook would help me and offer me lifts to the pool."
Mr Bourne became strong after a year, losing four belt sizes and noticing his anxiety was dissipating.
He then signed up to the 2020 Starlight Super Swim and smashed out 48km in one month.
"I started fundraising and service to others as part of my healing, and just to become a better person," Mr Bourne said.
"The Starlight Foundation opened my eyes to other ways of fundraising other than raffle tickets."
From there, Mr Bourne and his daughter signed up for a Reach Out fundraiser, raising money for teen mental health.
Mr Bourne had also approached the Surf Club and successfully completed his Bronze Medallion.
"When I was only five years old I help a child out of Coffs Creek and said I wanted to be a lifesaver.
"It was a thought that lingered however the decision really came after the rescue, when I had time to reflect upon the incident and how things could have worked out very differently."
He recently completed another fundraiser for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter which involved him swimming around the jetty before sunrise every morning for one month. Next, he will tackle the 2021 Starlight Super Swim, beginning from Australia Day.
Mr Bourne is one of seven Australia Day nominees who are being recognised for their achievements and commitment to the local community.
Mr Bourne, who was also nominated last year, said it was a surreal feeling to be up for an award once again and said it came down to mindfulness, the support of his family, and the support he received from local mens group Coffee 4 Blokes.
"For almost two years I have put my heart and soul into self care without guilt, overcoming anxiety and becoming the best version of myself for me, for my family and for the community."
The winners of the 2021 Australia Day Awards will be announced at a ceremony at the North Coast Botanic Garden on January 26.