Sean MacGugan graduated from Kincumber High School in 1998 as Central Coast Rugby Union Player of the Year, a NSW State Surfing Champion, and recipient of the Year 12 Caltex Award for combined sporting and academic achievement, but just five years later a spinal injury rendered him quadriplegic. Today, Sean is a hydraulic engineer at the council and a father, and says high school achievements feel like froth and bubble, paling into insignificance compared to the most challenging moments of his life.
“Certificates, awards, competitions and the like don’t mean much to me. It’s how you hold yourself and others in life’s real trials and tribulations that define you.”
Despite this, Sean says he has fond memories of his time at Kincumber High School, and says he learnt a lot about himself and what motivated him. “There is dating, sport, mischief, parties, academic pressures, puberty, opportunity, a lack of responsibility, and lots of interesting people to socialise with. These are perfect ingredients to develop great memories. Just turning up to the same spot everyday with all of your friends is awesome. You don’t realise how unique that is until you leave.” He believes it’s a special period of life, and a time to be enjoyed. “You have the world at your fingertips, and so much opportunity. Get to know yourself better, and if you want something; put your mind to it, and go get it.”
Sean’s journey to becoming independent after his spinal injury was a long one, but he says the people he met along the way changed his life and outlook. He says, “Some severe, high level quadriplegics I went through rehabilitation with provide inspiration. These amazing people show spirit, resilience and determination; qualities that few people possess. They remind me how fortunate I am and to make good use of every moving muscle I have.”
Just two years later he became fully independent again, moved to Sydney and completed a degree in Engineering with honours from the University of Technology. Since becoming independent, Sean has raised over $100k for spinal injured people through an annual charity surf contest, cycled 4000kms through Europe, kayaked 110kms in the Hawkesbury Classic and after marrying in 2009, sailed the east coast for fifteen months with his wife, Rachel, and dog, Wilbur. Sean says, “Having the spinal injury and completing the journey to becoming fully independent was incredibly emotional, challenging and rewarding. Getting married and having children gave me more purpose and fulfilment than any sporting achievement or certificate.”
Despite his many achievements, Sean says, “Certificates, awards, competitions and the like don’t mean much to me. It’s how you hold yourself and others in life’s real trials and tribulations that define you.”