Neil Sachse shouldn’t have been quite so nervous as he readied himself for The Advertiser Channel 7 Sports Star of the Year Awards presentation recently. Sport SA Chief Executive Officer, Leah Cassidy, had already rung him with the news he’d receive the illustrious Spirit of South Australia Award that evening.
“She said I’d been ‘endorsed’ for the award,” Neil said.
“I didn’t quite know what that meant. If she’d said, ‘you’d won’, maybe I’d have been more confident!”
As it was, Neil’s instincts as a former footballer kicked in.
“I kept thinking I’d been up for awards before and never won, so I just went along for the dinner,” he said.
You can imagine then, Neil’s pleasant surprise when he was called to the stage to receive the honour that’s only been awarded twice before – to former South Australian Governor and dual Olympic gold medallist, Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, and renowned philanthropist Robert Gerard.
“I still haven’t come to terms with that yet,” Neil said.
“Sometimes you wonder whether they’re pulling your leg.”
The Spirit of South Australia Award is presented every four years to “acknowledge extraordinary achievements and sporting performances that have captured the hearts of all South Australians”.
In 1975, Neil had an SANFL premiership medal on his mantle and was just two games into a promising VFL career when an on-field collision left him himself confined to a hospital bed. Quadriplegia changed his life forever, but his spirit remained strong.
“A lot of people around me at the time wanted to blame everything else, everybody else for them being in the hospital,” Neil said.
“I didn’t see the point.”
Neil credits his wife and children, then aged just one and two, with giving him the motivation to make the most of his situation. He says the drive to help others ever since that day is “in the genes”.
“My father came from a background as a farmer, working as part of a community, part of a team,” he said.
“I got a lot of help when I had my accident from a lot of people in the community. I don’t mind giving back.”
Neil continues to “give back” through tireless fundraising and as Director of the Neil Sachse Centre at SAHMRI.
“I want to leave a legacy with the Centre of Excellence for Spinal Cord Injury and Treatment,” Neil said.
“The work we’re doing here is world class and will make a difference to people with spinal cord injury and those who help them.
“It’ll open the doors to new treatments. It already is.”
The third edition of the Neil Sachse Centre’s fundraising bike ride Project Discovery Classic will be held throughout Adelaide and the hills this weekend.