Trisha Broadbridge is the 2006 Young Australian of the Year. But if one were to ask Trisha what’s so extraordinary about herself that she would receive such an accolade, her answer would most likely be, “Nothing!” If there’s nothing extraordinary about anyone who endures tragedy and loss and comes up positive and smiling, she might be right.
Often, in order to make sense of tragedy, we make both their victims— and survivors—into something extraordinary. Here is someone who in their darkest moment wonders if there’s a reason to go on. For survivors of tragedy, there is no sudden realisation that life is wonderful.
The person has to go on, struggling with day-to-day life, depending on their friends for strength and support, slowly rebuilding. Trisha knows what it is to travel this road, having lost her new husband, Troy, and sustaining serious injuries herself in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.
Trisha grew up in a family where her father drank a lot and she felt quite disconnected from him. She saw her mother as “quite powerless,” and someone who didn’t express her emotions.
She says, “Even though I knew my family loved me, I wanted more than they could give at the time.” In her teenage years, she felt her family didn’t understand her, so she rebelled. “I started lying to my parents, staying out all night, drinking and trying to break as many rules as possible in order to ‘fit in.’” Eventually she was taken to counselling, but she refused to open up.
It was the Reach Foundation that made a difference for Trisha. The foundation is designed to promote self-esteem in young people and provide a safe place where they can be themselves and talk about their feelings. At her school its cofounder, Irish footballer Jim Stynes, promot ed a “hero’s journey day,” for which she applied and was accepted. She enjoyed it so much, she decided to go on a camp.
She says they “weren’t up there saying, ‘Don’t drink!’ ‘Don’t take drugs!’ ‘Don’t get depressed!’ and ‘Tell the teacher if you get bullied.’ Instead, they were saying, ‘We all know it goes on out there and that to different degrees all of you are involved at some level or another. So what are your choices?’” She says no-one had talked to her about choices , and in the past she’d blamed everyone but herself for her circumstances.
She says she also felt completely accepted at the camp—able to be herself and able to be honest about how she felt.
Trisha met footballer Troy Broadbridge in 1999. A friendship grew into love. For the first time, she says, she felt she could really love someone, and Troy felt accepted for who he was. However it took Trisha a little while to express how she felt to Troy. Trisha told Troy how she felt just as she was about to board a plane on another Reach trip. Troy didn’t say a word and Trisha was devastated, thinking he was not interested in her. However when she came home, Trisha says, “ Troy came over.
We went into the kitchen. He looked at me and smiled. That was enough.” From that point, the relationship blossomed.
AFL football was a big part of Troy’s life. He had been drafted to the Melbourne Football Club from South Australia, and was playing in Seconds. He battled a number of injuries during this time, which meant at times he was unable to play a lot of football. When Troy was in training, he was strict about his diet and didn’t drink alcohol. Due to how particular he was, he did all the cooking.
He was elated when he was signed for a two-year contract with Melbourne in 2001. Troy was a shy person, but on Trisha’s 22nd birthday, they drove to Geelong to watch Melbourne play. At half-time Troy pulled out a birthday cake with candles on it and sang happy birthday to her in the stand with their friends about them. “For Troy to do that showed that he didn’t care who knew how much he loved me,” she says.
Troy was also a very selfless person, and encouraged others in the team even when it meant they might actually gain a place on the field to his own exclusion.
the proposal In early 2004 Troy’s grandfather died.
This made him think seriously about his relationship with Trisha. He proposed to her, reading what he’d written in his journal while away: “I used to think marriage would not really change our relationship, but now I see things differently. Marriage is a bond of pure strength. A bond which means everything we do, we do together... .
“I’ve always used footy as an excuse for putting things off. But being here at this funeral, I can see now that it’s the footy that comes and goes but it’s you that I need.” In December 2004, Troy and Trisha married. Trisha’s father walked her down the aisle. It was a turning point for Trisha and her parents. The wedding was a happy occasion shared with a small number of family and friends. Troy and Trisha talked long into the night afterward excited about their wonderful day, then flew to Phi Phi Island, Thailand, for their ill-fated honeymoon. For a week they enjoyed taking walks, shopping and snorkelling.
On the day after Christmas, Trisha and Troy decided over breakfast to take a walk. They’d attempted to do the walk the previous day with a guide, but it had been cancelled. As they walked the trail they discovered it was obscured in some places, so it took longer than expected. eventually the track came to a bay, so they decided to take a walk home along the beach.
Says Trisha, “The scene before us was magnificent—you couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place. Bungalows, shops and cafes sat under palm trees along the edge of the beach, while the larger hotels and street markets were packed in a little village behind it.” As they walked the beach, the first wave of the tsunami rolled in. She says the first wave swept higher and higher up the beach, forcing them to run from it.
But it built up momentum, they ran to a bungalow on stilts and climbed onto the balcony. It was from there that they were then swept into the maelstrom, as an even larger, more powerful wave rushed in.
Trisha felt Troy pushing her up, then in an instant they were separated. Trisha says, “Being in the wave itself was like being sucked down a giant plug hole, twisted and turned, and battered by debris caught in the wave.” Although Trisha lost consciousness underwater, she was rescued by a tourist on a balcony. Her eyes were swollen and she had deep cuts, which she had treated by a local doctor. However, she left to find Troy—or his body. Eventually, when told her family would come to look for him, she agreed to leave the island for medical help. Troy’s body was discovered eight days later.
After returning home, Trisha was consumed with grief. She also felt guilty for surviving when Troy had been lost. She says returning home was one of the hardest things she had to do. “Even in those early days, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to put on a brave face and to try to cope, rather than giving myself over to the grieving process.” She did not face her grief and eventually putting on a public face became too big a burden. She started drinking alcohol to mask her pain. She told her friends and mother she wanted to end her life. She was eventually hospitalised for five days, recovering.
Her friend Jim Stynes says that due to her story being all over the media, Trisha wasn’t free to deal with her issues. Instead she had just been acting, when inside she was just a 24-year-old girl hurting because she’d lost the love of her life.
Trisha revisited Thailand not long after Troy’s death. “It was the best thing I did,” she says, “because the trip to Thailand gave me a passion to want to help the Thai people.” She decided to form the Reach Broadbridge Fund in memory of Troy and to contribute to the lives of others affected by the tsunami. This sense of purpose was part of the road to recovery for Trisha.
She decided to build an education centre and take educational equipment and toys for schoolchildren on Phi Phi island.
And instead of going on an end-of-season pleasure trip, Troy’s football team helped in its construction. Trisha also decided to take the Reach Foundation to South Australia to help young people there have the opportunities with Reach Foundation that had helped her so much.
Trisha says she’s discovered there is no right way to grieve and that she’ll never judge others for how they do it. But, she says, she’s discovered that staying true to yourself is perhaps one of the best ways.
She hopes she may be of help to others who’ve lost a partner.
She authored a book called Beyond the Wave ,* which, she says, “helped me in my grieving process, as I had to face all the feeling I had instead of pushing them away.” Now she is pursuing a master’s degree in international development at RMIT, something in which she has had an interest for many years. “I’ve always had empathy for people in Third World countries, but I never did anything about it—never thought it was my problem.” Until now. Trisha plans to return to Phi Phi to teach for a month every year.
She feels that surviving the tsunami was a miracle, and she’s been given a second chance at life. But for Trisha, nothing about life is certain.
She says she’s learned to take risks and not to worry about the little things.
“This journey has been so long and so hard and I have no idea what life has in store for me from here... . I want to leave others the same legacy Troy left me: a life of hope, a life lived with integrity, passion, determination and love. Everyone can make a difference in their own time.”
*Beyond the Wave, Allen & Unwin, 2005, $A26.95.