Pitch-perfect principal returns to his roots

Despite a traumatic brain injury as a child, Faulconbridge Public School principal Chris Pyne has always trodden his own path. Glenn Cullen reports.

A man standing in front of a mural. A man standing in front of a mural.
Image: Faulconbridge Public School principal and former Pararoo Chris Pyne.

It seemed the most innocuous of incidents. Bush walking with his brothers and sisters as a six-year-old, Chris Pyne slipped and fell.

Things quickly escalated as the Year 1 Faulconbridge Public student tumbled from a cliff, and in landing, paralysed the right side of his body.

Chris’ cognitive abilities were impacted, and over the next few years, he had to learn how to walk and talk again.

The injuries he suffered in the fall would shape his future, but Chris credits his acceptance at Faulconbridge Public School as equally life changing.

He would ultimately go back to the school as a teacher, and eventually become principal.

“The way I was treated – not as an outsider or someone with a disability, but just as a student – I think that went a long way to shaping what I did in the future, to become a teacher,” he said.

“Principals have a really significant impact as to the way disability – or ability – is viewed in schools.

“I’m a man who has a disability, but I also have a deeper understanding of what that means for students like this in a school.”

As remarkable as Chris’s return to Faulconbridge has been, it is also part of a journey that has included more than 100-caps for the Pararoos, Australia’s Paralympic football team.

A keen soccer player even before his accident, Chris continued to hone his skills and was good enough to play in five World Cups for the national team.

He said being granted time off from work to represent his county had been invaluable.

“It was priceless,” he said.

“In terms of allowing me to pursue my sport and not impact my career, it’s probably the biggest impact (the NSW Department of Education) has had for me.”

Chris now gives back to the sport as coach of the NSW Paralympic team.

It is a busy schedule, but Chris would not have it any other way - a proud principal and athlete.

“It was a conscious decision by me. I may walk different to anyone else, but I don’t want to be seen as different,” he said.

“I am a principal first, before I am a principal with a disability. Just like I saw myself as an athlete, not a disabled athlete.

“I haven’t needed those supports, but if I did, absolutely those supports are there and have been offered to me.”

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