“HELL on wheels.” That’s how Teena Pearse lovingly describes her adventurous son Col during his toddler years.
Crawling at four months and walking at seven, there was no stopping him once he took off.
She recalls the day he snuck into the cattle fridge on the family’s dairy farm at Bamawm Extension, removed the safety lid from a bottle of cow medicine, and took a swig.
Then there was the time her youngest of four swallowed a two-inch decking nail, prompting a trip to hospital where little could be done except hope he passed it out the other end.
He did so without incident the following day.
But it was Col’s little escape act on October 9, 2005, that altered the course of his life.
“We thought he was locked inside the house,” Mrs Pearse says of the day she was down in the dairy milking the cows and husband Julian jumped on their new ride-on mower.
“His dad had snibbed the security door, but Col pulled a chair up to it, unlocked the door and out he went.
“Julian was reversing out of a corner of the house block we had fenced off, to help keep Col in, and as he did so he heard something. Then he realised he’d knocked Col over.”
The injured tot was airlifted to hospital in Melbourne with part of his right foot missing and ended up having the damaged appendage amputated at the heel two days later.
While the near-tragedy remains raw in his parents’ minds, it barely slowed their energetic youngster down. He was home within days and back running around not long after.
Today, with his 11th birthday just around the corner, it seems there is nothing this determined young man cannot do.
He swims faster than most able-bodied boys his age and has just been selected to represent Victoria for the second year in a row at the School Sport Australia national championships, to be held in Melbourne in July.
He plays junior football every weekend for the Echuca Bombers under-12s, wearing a blue-and-white hooped prosthetic foot inspired by his beloved Geelong Football Club.
The die-hard fan was last year invited down to the Cattery for a day, where he met idols including skipper Joel Selwood, then got to run out onto the MCG as Geelong’s mascot for their blockbuster against Hawthorn in front of 80,000 fans.
More recently, the grade five student lined up for Lockington Consolidated School’s mixed netball team in a tournament, and ran the entire 3km course at the district inter-school cross country event in Bendigo last week.
“Col doesn’t know any different,” his mum says. “He doesn’t remember ever having a foot because he was 26 months old and still in nappies at the time of the accident.”
Col still has his heel bone in tact so he can walk on his stump, though his right side is about 5cm shorter than his left so he has a pronounced limp.
But with his prosthetic in place, he can run around the sports field just like any other kid.
His disability is certainly no barrier to success in the swimming pool.
Col competes as an S10 athlete (below-the-knee amputee) in multi-class events, but more often than not races against able-bodied opponents and out-swims many of them.
At the 2014 inter-school carnival in Echuca, he was the fastest qualifier overall through to the next stage in all four strokes in the 11-year-old boys’ category.
He was quickest outright in freestyle and backstroke at the Bendigo zone meet, then finished in the top four overall at the regional carnival in Swan Hill.
As the only multi-class swimmer his age, he qualified for the state final and won silver in the 9-13 years freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke against youngsters with varying disabilities.
Those swims produced huge personal best times and Col will be out to record more PBs when he contests the national school event in all four strokes over 50m, as well as the 100m backstroke, 100m and 200m freestyle, and two relays.
Last year, Col brought home silver and bronze relay medals from nationals in Adelaide.
Mrs Pearse says it was important her four children learnt to swim from a young age because, growing up on a farm, there were several dams and channels on the property posing a danger.
So Col joined older siblings Ashleigh, Stephanie and Corey in taking lessons and quickly showed signs of his amazing potential.
He now trains four times a week in Echuca under Russell Parsons and is a member of the Geelong Swimming Club, where the respected veteran coach is affiliated.
“He has been with Russell for three years and has never looked back,” says Mrs Pearse.
“He just loves to swim.”
Col’s coach is full of praise for his young star.
“To give you an idea, he has improved about five seconds in his 50m freestyle and breaststroke just this season,” Parsons says.
“He may not win at nationals, but I think he’ll do very well. He’s a terrific young fellow who has really made more than most would out of his disability. He has done such a fantastic job.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Lockington PE teacher Jackson Gray, who says Col is a wonderful role model for other students.
“I was lucky enough to be his grade four teacher last year and he is a really nice kid. He is also quite modest about his achievements, which is a good trait to have.
“If I looked out the window right now, I’d be able to see him out there kicking a ball – there’s no slowing him down. He never once complains about it. He’s quite inspirational, really.”
The Pearse family is thankful for the way things have turned out for Col.
His sport provides an outlet for the boundless energy that keeps his mum and dad on their toes. And along with a diet free of lollies, colours, preservatives and soft drink, his athletic endeavours seem to have helped him avoid further misadventure.
“Soft drink is not even in Col’s vocabulary,” laughs Mrs Pearse. “You know how they say some kids climb up walls when they drink it? Well, Col runs on ceilings!
“But we’re really proud of him. It’s hard not to be because he’s such a beautiful kid, full stop. He's always been like, life is there to be lived… and that's exactly what he's done.”