It is more than 30 years since Estee Lee was robbed, as a child, of her ability to walk in a horrific car crash that also killed her Dad – Richard, and injured her brother. She was five. Her neck was broken in three places.
Most people would agree that becoming a paraplegic at five would be enough to crush a little girl with big dreams and set the scene for a lifetime of feeling sorry for herself.
But that’s exactly what didn’t happen, thanks to her indomitable spirit and positive attitude, her Mum, her big family and her determination “to make fun wherever I go”.
Today, Estee is a fully independent high school teacher who travels a lot, sky dives, skis and shares her husband and best friend Leif’s love of motorbikes and boating. And she still has those big dreams.
“I am a very positive person,” said Estee as we sipped coffee after driving to meet me at a Hawthorn cafe (she got her first car, a Ford Ghia, in Year 12).
“Mum always said I was positive and I don’t think I could have got through if I had not been like that, overcoming everything I have had to overcome”, she added.
Now 37 and newly married, Estee talks fondly about her big family with candour and humour, which typifies her outlook on life.
Referring to younger sister Emma, who suggested to us that she would be an ideal SheInspires for SheBrisbane, Estee laughs, saying the two used to hate each other as kids. She is quick, however, to point out that she and Emma, who is five years younger, “speak the same language” and have a similar sense of humour.
As for her big family Estee is adamant that it helped shape her and lift her out of what could easily have been a childhood of despair.
“The biggest thing being in a big family has taught me is consideration and understanding,” she said.
“I had a great family life with all my brothers and sisters”, she added, smiling as she reminisced about those days rebuilding her life at home after spending more than a year in hospital (three months in intensive care).
“If I was sulky they’d say buck up. We don’t care. It’s not about you.” Estee admits that becoming disabled at such an early age helped her cope because she couldn’t remember what her life was like before the accident.
“A big thing in adapting was to do with me being little when it happened plus my positive personality,” she said.
Estee’s Mum, Lesley, who was one month pregnant with sister Nelle (her fourth child), at the time of the accident, and a single parent until remarrying six years later and having four more children, played a major role in Estee’s rehabilitation and subsequent journey to becoming the woman she is today.
“Mum is an extremely strong woman,” said Estee.
“I think that the strength she had to have after finding out about her husband’s death was amazing and a true testament to the human spirit and psyche.
“She was one month pregnant with my sister Nelle (pretty touchy time in pregnancy), she had a one year old baby at home who didn’t understand where her dad, brother and sister were, a 7- year- old son who was a very active kid who looked up to his father more than anything and a little girl in hospital on the brink of death.
“To me, for her to keep pouring out love and support to us, took more strength than I think even Mum realised she had.
“Not just mum, but my brother and sisters: Jesse, Emma and Nelle. They are amazing and have so much strength themselves – the confidence, resilience and kindness that we all have is testament to my Mum and Dad, along with the “Suck it up Princess” outlook we all have on life.
“There were heaps of things that Mum has said to me over my lifetime, but it was more about the constant love and pride that she had for us that stands out in my mind.
“ She would (and still does) tell us how proud she is of us and how much she loves us” – as does our dad Peter, and although my dad Richard can never be replace, there was no one better to take on the job than Pete. We are very lucky that he came along when he did.
Estee remembers that because she was “such a determined, stubborn person” she wanted to leave home in Year 10.
She didn’t, but she did a few years later when she turned 19, moving into her own home, bought and made accessible with compensation money from the accident. She had to learn basic housekeeping skills on the job such as washing clothes and cooking.
After studying at Tafe, a short career as a personal assistant, and an even shorter time studying journalism at university, plus stints working as a kids club assistant, Estee realised that teaching was her calling.
More study followed and eventually she got a job at Centenary SHS where she taught for 10 years before still more study led to
her landing her current job at Brisbane Bayside State College which just happens to be near the bay where she and Leif are aiming to live.
They both spend every spare moment on and around the bay or out on their boat.
Estee’s eyes light up and a smile creases her face as she talks about meeting Norwegian-born Leif, who owns a motorbike race enhancement workshop, Bikebuilders Pty. Ltd. Albion, “at a pub where all good romances start.” They have been together five years.
She says she and Leif are different in a lot of ways – she is messy and he is tidy, but above all they are “very good friends”.
“We have got a really funny sort of outlook on life. We can laugh and joke about pretty much everything. We have got to enjoy life.
“We want to own a property and not so that we don’t have to worry about money too much when we are older.
“We want to live in Germany for six months in two years time. We want to go to Europe so badly and finally made the decision we will do it.
Asked who had inspired her in her life so far Estee said inspiration came from life and people.
She said she found the actions of South Australian nurse Kirsty Bowden, who died in the London Bridge terrorist attack earlier this month after turning back to help other victims, inspirational.
“I want to make a difference,” she said.
“I don’t know if I’ve done that yet. I’ve got ideas. It’s coming. I’ve got this thing brewing. It’s just getting the time to sit down and do it.”
Estee’s favourite eating spots:
● Dunwich Fruit Barn (Stradbroke Island) cafe
● Manly Tides Bar
● Anywhere there is yummy food really