Van Den Eynden

A Marathon Achievement

Meeting Joanne Joanne's Marathon Project "A Marathon Achievement" is launched
What "Marathon" meant to Joanne And yet another great Achievement!  
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Meeting Joanne

It was July 1995 - Joanne remembers the day well, "a Monday, it was raining heavily and a really cold day". It was at the State Library in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, where I was doing some Family History research on the computers in the Genealogy section. There were four computers in the group and diagonally opposite me were two "girls" who attracted my attention. I was always taught that it was rude to stare, but what I saw fascinated me. One of the girls was in a wheelchair and using a mouth pointer to press the keys on the keyboard! That was the first thing that drew my attention, but as I kept peeking now and again, it was the laughter, joy, and frowns which encouraged me to speak up.

They were obviously having trouble using the program - as I was pretty familiar with it, I offered to help. One thing led to another, but most importantly it led to a very special friendship : that was the day I met the amazing Joanne Van Den Eynden.

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Joanne's Marathon Project

Joanne and I started communicating via a local Bulletin Board, and I visited her at home where she lived with her Mum and Dad. I also began to comprehend some of the problems facing someone with Cerebral Palsy. The amazing thing is that I could never feel sorry for Joanne - I could only admire her and more importantly enjoy and share her company.

One of the passions we both shared was family and local history research. Joanne was working on a project which had occupied her for almost 16 years - researching Marathon, the stately old home used as a school by the Spastic Society of Victoria. Marathon was demolished in 1979 but Joanne was determined that it would not be forgotten. She planned to write a book about her experiences there as a student and as much as she could find about the history of Marathon's previous owners and occupiers.

Joanne was well on the way to finishing her book - most of the chapters had been written, and with help from her friends Rae and Jane, most of the research had been done. There were still a few gaps in some of the history to be completed and then the hurdle of production and publishing - in fact Joanne's Mum and Dad sometimes wondered if they would ever see the finished product!

There were trips to the Public Record Office, libraries and archives in search of the missing gaps, and more letters and phone calls to past students and descendants of Marathon's early families pleading for photographs and memories. There was a bright shining light at the end of the tunnel - Joanne was fine-tuning the text, Jane was doing the editing, I was doing the layouts and desktop publishing, and the meetings with the printer and bookbinder made it all very real.

A very special day was when Joanne handed over the finished pages and artwork to the printer and was able to name the date for the official book launch of "A Marathon Achievement". That's the cover of the book at the top of this page - it's real!

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"A Marathon Achievement" is launched

The invitations went out, the replies came in, and on Sunday 6th October, 1996, Joanne sat in the big hall with her family terrified that no-one would turn up!!

Well, did they turn up? Yep - more than 150 people : Joanne's schoolmates and teachers, descendants of previous Marathon owners, people met while researching, and most importantly, family and friends.

I was privileged to be asked to M.C. the day, and it was one of my proudest moments. We planned to get all the formalities over with at the beginning so Joanne would have a chance to relax and enjoy the company of all her guests. Joanne already had a stiff neck from pre-signing books so that she only had to write in people's names if they requested it on the day.

Joanne & me : hogging the stage!

Joanne & me :
hogging the stage!

Joanne & John : signing a book

Joanne and her brother John :
a team effort to sign a book

What a day - I've never seen so many smiles!

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What "Marathon" meant to Joanne

My favourite page in Joanne's book is the last page. I'll let Joanne's own words explain ......

I have heard of Marathon being described as too clinical but I know, along with other school mates and staff that we did as much as we physically could and had every opportunity to experience every bit of the school environment.

There were many challenges at Marathon and there were many achievements. The challenges and achievements were put forward by physiotherapists, occupational therapists and teachers. The achievements taught me how to understand my physical disabilities, learn my restrictions and tackle things in another way that would work for me. They taught me not to give up before having a go.

The special people at Marathon taught me to be persistent. Marathon provided the 'ground-work'. Then it was up to the student to continue what they had been taught, and to do it as independently as possible and pursue their goals.

With Marathon behind me I was able to face my future "Step by Step".

["Step by Step" was Marathon's school motto]

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Another great Achievement!

Some of you might think that Joanne led a quiet life in front of a keyboard or searching for old records - WRONG!

I was lucky enough to share another memorable experience with Joanne. It was September 10th - the book was in the hands of the printer, the invitations had gone out, and Joanne was about to fulfil a secret ambition she had coveted for some time.

She wanted to go sailing!

That's fine, I thought - we should be able to manoeuvre her with or without her wheelchair onto a reasonable sized yacht. That wasn't for this dare-devil! Joanne was talking about a small single-handed sailing dinghy! I'd done a lot of sailing in my time, but this wish threw me a little bit.

Well it turned out to be a single-chinned sailing dinghy! A local boat-builder, Chris, had converted some of his dinghies so they could be controlled electronically - not remotely, but by the occupant controlling the rudder and mainsail.

They're marvellous little dinghies - very stable, and Joanne soon got the hang of the controls. We experimented with seats, straps and cushions and she was ready to take off! Chris hovered nearby in another sailing dinghy, and there was a rubber duckie not far away if Joanne needed urgent help.

Joanne need help? You're joking!!!! She conquered Albert Park Lake with the biggest grin I've ever seen.

Joanne sailing
Joanne "chinning" around Albert Park Lake
with Chris hovering in the background

Once Chris realised that Joanne didn't need a "mother hen" clucking nearby, he left her alone to really experience her freedom. Joanne had talked to me about the wonderful freedom she felt when she got her first motorised wheelchair, but this was different - no wheels, no pedestrians to avoid - just Joanne and the wind and the water.

And was Joanne prepared for a five minute experience? - no way!!! It was well over an hour before she came back to land - only because she thought she should return Chris's dinghy.

What a magic day!

And what will Joanne conquer next? Who knows? But one thing I do know - it will be a challenge, exciting and fun for Joanne and those lucky enough to know her.

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Created by : Susie Zada
1996 Susie Zada, Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia
Last revised : July 02, 2014
Email : susie@zades.com.au