real life

At 17, Fletcher was bike riding with mates. An accident changed his life in an instant.

On September 10, 2023, 17-year-old Fletcher Crowley's life changed in an instant.

It started as a day like any other. He was spending the weekend out on the bike tracks and dirt jumps with a bunch of his mates in Sydney's Northern Beaches. Fletcher was planning to attempt a double backflip on his bike. This wasn't the first time he had attempted the move, having been successful doing it a few times prior.

He felt confident. Assured. He was having an absolute blast.

"The vibe was so good, and I was surrounded by friends. I had done heaps of single flips and so I figured, 'I'll just go for it and try the double flip,'" he tells Mamamia's No Filter podcast.

"I didn't pull hard enough and I ended up basically folding myself in half."


It was 4pm on that fateful Sunday afternoon when Fletcher's dad Pat received a phone call.

Pat was at the supermarket in the freezer aisle. He says it was like time stood still in that moment.

"I got a call from a random number. Whenever Fletcher was out riding bikes, you would tend to get calls from his friends as his phone would be dead. So I answered. But Fletcher was on the other end and he said he'd 'had a pickle.' He hadn't wanted to scare me."

Initially, Pat wasn't terribly concerned, as Fletcher had experienced various injuries to his ACL and knees, associated with dirt bike riding. Pat and Fletcher's mother Nicky had never discouraged their son from riding as it was his passion from when he was a young kid. They just asked him to be as safe as possible. 


But there was a twinge of fear that Pat says he felt after receiving that call. He sensed things were worse than they seemed. He called Nicky, she and their other son Levi went to go see Fletcher and Pat paid for the groceries in his shopping cart. 

When Nicky arrived at the dirt jumps the ambulances were still on their way. What she saw terrified her, but she was also determined to "pull it together" in front of her son.

"I think the entire time I kept saying to myself, 'I have to be a rock, I have to be his rock. I didn't want him to see any sadness, or for me to scare him. He didn't need me to break down or be a mess at that point," she tells No Filter.

"I remember it was such a beautiful day in terms of the sun. But it was so quiet. The birds weren't even chirping. It was eerily quiet. Levi, our other son, was holding his head in his hands and you could see the fear he was feeling."


Still on the track, Fletcher's good mates had covered him in jumpers, and they hadn't moved him from the jump position, not wanting to do anymore damage. He still had all of his protective gear on like leg braces, a helmet and a chest gear.

When the specialist ambulance team arrived, they did what they do best and maneuvered Fletcher to safety and subsequently to hospital. Sadly though the arduous journey had just begun.


When the accident occurred and Fletcher landed badly, there was complete silence, following shortly by him wincing and yelling "F**k, f**k, f**k."

His mates were there to keep him calm and urged him not to move.

"I was holding one of my mate's hands and I just knew it wasn't good. I don't remember being in pain though, but I'm sure I was. I had told one of my friends, 'I can't feel my legs.'"


When Fletcher's parents arrived, he didn't tell them he couldn't feel his legs. He wanted them to stay calm.

The stack resulted in Fletcher fracturing his T8 and T9 vertebrae, which resulted in serious damage to his spinal cord.

Following surgeries and tests, doctors diagnosed Fletcher as a paraplegic. He has little to no movement from the waist down, and no one can definitively say when, if or how much of his movement he will get back.

Fletcher isn't letting that stop him though.

"Most of the doctors were like, 'No you won't walk again, you need to adapt to life in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.' But then one doctor came into the ICU and was like, 'Show me what you can do.' And that was really motivating."

Although Fletcher's spirit has been unwavering, his parents have understandably struggled. Nicky quit her job. Fletcher was in hospital for six months. He doesn't have control of his bowel care or bladder, relying on things like a catheter. Fortunately, their home's configuration has been accessible for Fletcher, though the logistics of dealing with NDIS and rehabilitation is time consuming. 

"We cried every hour for the first week. The second week we would cry every second hour and then it just extended on from there to the point where you pull yourself up and stop crying," says Pat.


"Instead of thinking what Fletcher won't have, I started writing a list on my phone of all the things Fletcher will do. And that list is long."

The Crowley family are sadly no strangers to life's curveballs being thrown their way.

Fletcher's brother Levi was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome a few years back. Since being diagnosed in 2020, they have discovered multiple tumours in Levi's brain, spine, retinas, kidneys and pancreas. He has lost sight in one of his eyes and survived brain surgery in 2021. 

Fletcher with his brother Levi and their dad Pat. Image: Supplied/Instagram.


"It seems weird to say which is worse or which is more serious, but Fletcher is going to get better and better, whereas every time Levi has a scan there's another punch in the chest. He was 17 when first diagnosed with the cancer," notes Nicky.

"He has nine tumours in his cerebellum, in the brain. He has two on his spine, and one on his kidney. But looking at him, you wouldn't know anything is different. There's nothing to see. Whereas Fletcher is like the icon of disability."

The Crowleys have hope that a new drug called Belzutifan could help, as it's said to reduce VHL tumour growth, though it costs $12,000 a month. Many are now petitioning for the drug to go on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Pat adds: "For Levi, it doesn't impact his day-to-day life. He parties with his friends, has fun. But it's always there. You don't forget it. Levi doesn't wallow in the corner at all. Whereas I would wallow in the corner. I think our children have Nicky's positive energy. They're both funny and lovable and smart, they'll try anything. They just give life a good go."

Fletcher still has big dreams and is excited for the future. He wants to ride an adaptive bike from Perth to Sydney and raise funds. After that, he has his sights set on the Paralympics. In the meantime, he's already been out riding on an adaptive, three-wheel mountain bike.


He hopes to walk one day, but right now he's celebrating the smaller wins — wriggling his toes, kicking his leg out and lifting it slightly, and even crawling a bit. He can't control the speed that he does it at, but it's movement. 

Fletcher and Nicky. Image: Supplied.

Fletcher also has hope for his romantic life too and having a family one day. His friends have also rallied around him.


As Fletcher's parents say: "He's shown this fighting spirit from the minute it happened. You don't how your child is going to respond in situations like these, but he's just a remarkable human."

Prior to the accident, Fletcher had a secret tattoo with the words 'Get Silly' on his thigh that he had kept hidden from his parents. They of course came to see it while Fletcher was in the ICU.

Now six months on, Fletcher was gifted his own tattoo gun. He has since tattooed the words 'Get Silly' on more than 30 of his friends. Some of the nurses who helped look after him during his hospital stay also plan to get the same words tattooed on themselves.

It inspired him to start a foundation Get Silly, raising money for spinal cord research and rehab.

"From this I've realised what I can't do now. But there's so many things I can do too. Yes, I might be in a chair forever. But I also might not be. It is what it is — I'll just make the best out of it."

If you would like to contribute to the GoFundMe organised for the Crowley family, you can do so here. You can also see more about Get Silly here, and the petition for Belzutifan to be added to the PBS here.

You can listen to Fletcher Crowley's full story on Mamamia's No Filter now.

Feature Image: Supplied.