Turning Points

On the weekend, we had the privilege of hearing Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) speak at the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) open day. Every year, USQ has an open day and it is a great opportunity for prospective students, especially country kids, to check out what courses are on offer and learn a bit about university life. As a regional university, USQ is the ideal place for country kids to study in a safe and supportive environment without having to face the big city. The theme for this year’s open day was “fearless”.

Li is an amazing and inspirational speaker. Most people, I guess, are familiar with his story. Born into utter poverty in Mao’s communist China, the sixth of seven sons, hardship and starvation marked his childhood and left an indelible imprint on his memory. However, his parents love and sacrifice gave Li hope and courage. One day, something happened that would change his life forever.


“One moment in life can transform your entire journey of life.”

Turning points are crucial. It can be the difference between following one path or taking another. There were a number of crucial turning points in Li’s life–the teacher who tapped the official’s shoulder and pointed to Li; the Russian ballet teacher who encouraged Li and inspired a love of ballet; and being selected to go to the United States as part of an exchange program. We can only wonder the path Li’s life might have taken, if any of these turning points had not happened.

We all have those moments in life which become crucial turning points. For me, there are at least two that are significant. The first was when my son, Dan, was diagnosed with autism, shortly before his third birthday. I hardly knew anything about autism, except for Rain Man, however it has taken me on a journey into a world I could never have imagined. It has made me stronger, more confident and resilient. I have learned to challenge assumptions and expectations, and advocate for Dan. I have discovered there are different ways of being, thinking and doing.

The second turning point in my life was when Rob, my first husband and father of my children, died suddenly of a heart attack. This is a story that I will tell you more about some other time, but it’s like they say:

“what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Despite the hardship of Li’s early life, the brutal training at the Dance Academy in Beijing and the pain of separation from his family after defection, Li maintained that hardship, rather than easy success, can provide the most crucial moments. This is when you have to dig deep. This is when you discover who you really are and what matters most in life.

Li encouraged us to be fearless, to make the most of every little opportunity; to be positive and to make a difference in the lives of others. In the end,



“it is not how long you live your life, but how you live your life.”





Bush Running



Every week my son, Dan, goes bush walking with a support worker up at Picnic Point. Dan is tall and thin and has long legs. It comes in handy sometimes. When we do the grocery shopping, he can reach the items on the top shelf. Dan didn’t inherit his long legs from me. He is very active, so when he walks, he is like a man on a mission. Once he gets into the zone, he just goes. There are two speeds–stop and go. His support workers have nick-named their bush walking excursions as “bush running.”

Now if you want to get fit, walking (or running) with Dan is a great idea. However, it does have its downsides. While he is in the zone, he has no sense of road safety. If he knows where he is going, he just goes, across the road without looking. One time I thought it would be a good idea for us to go for a walk around our suburb. As long as Dan was in view I thought it was okay. But then he got just a bit too far ahead, and it didn’t matter how much I called–he was in the zone. There was no way I could keep up with him and worried about what would happen when he reached the road, I had to ask someone to help me catch him .

Dan also has a tendency not to see people. When we are out among crowds, he tends to just barge through people. Fortunately, nobody has been injured yet. But it does mean that when we go out, I need to hold on to him and manoeuvre him in and around people and obstacles. In the past, he has even walked straight into a pole.

On the weekend, Dan, Bec and I went for a drive out to Crows Nest National Park, not far from Toowoomba, to see the waterfall. The walking paths to the pools, the look out and the falls, all have steps. Lots and lots of steps. I’m not really all that keen on bush running, so as we go down the path, Bec sets the pace from the front (she has long legs too) and Dan brings up the rear. As we were going down all the steps to the water pool, I  thought about how we would have to come back up all those steps. No matter. I put Dan in front, held on and he pulled me all the way to the top. As I said, he can be quite handy!

We laugh about the bush running and admire Dan’s stamina, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though he is mostly non-verbal, he is always happy and makes our life very entertaining.