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A Pakenham teenager who made headlines after refusing to let paramedics cut off his beloved Magpies jumper after being hit by a car is about to live out his dream of running out onto the ground with his number-one team.
Zach Stephens, 13, nearly lost his leg and was told he would never play sport again after he was struck by a car while crossing the road in August 2010.
Nearly three years later, the plucky youngster is preparing to lead the Magpies onto Etihad Stadium as the team’s mascot for next week’s Robert Rose Cup, an annual clash between Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs.
Zach was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after the law firm that represented him following his accident, Slater & Gordon, became the naming rights sponsor of the Robert Rose Cup.
Robert Rose is the son of Collingwood legend Bob Rose and he himself played for both the Magpies and the Bulldogs before a car crash left him quadriplegic aged 22.
“Apart from his clear devotion to the Magpies, Zach is someone who faced the possibility of losing his leg and not being able to play sport again but he overcame both of those challenges and I think he was the obvious choice,” Slater & Gordon lawyer Janine Gregory said.
The theme of this year’s Robert Rose Cup is about disability awareness, recognising the achievements of people with disabilities and showing the community’s support for them.
The mascot for the Western Bulldogs is nine-year old Venice Kowalczyk, who lost both feet and her left hand after doctors missed an early diagnosis of meningococcal disease when she was nine-months old.
Zach’s father Jon Stephens said his son had been a bundle of excitement since learning he would run out onto Etihad alongside Pies skipper Nick Maxwell and the rest of the team for the round 12 clash.
“There was a time we thought he would never walk again so we are just so grateful that Zach has made a good recovery,” Mr Stephens said.
“We know there are lots of kids out there who haven’t been so lucky so hopefully the focus of this game can achieve some awareness around that.”
It has been a great year for Zach, who has just returned to playing junior footy as a forward with the Pakenham Lions.
He has come a long way from the roadside in Lakeside Pakenham where he argued with paramedics as they tried to cut off his jumper that had been signed by several dozen Collingwood players over a number of years. Zach eventually lost the argument and the jumper was removed before he was rushed to Dandenong Hospital.