By Alex Jones
AN INSPIRATIONAL teenage foodie with Cerebral Palsy isn’t letting his condition hold him back and has already travelled to 30 COUNTRIES aged just FOURTEEN and his family say everyone should ‘just do it’ – even though they almost LOST THEIR DAUGHTER on a train in China.
Australian Cooper Smith has a condition known as Dystonic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, but that hasn’t stopped him from globetrotting and sampling various cuisines right across the world.
Due to complications during his birth Cooper has brain damage but whilst it has impacted on Cooper’s mobility and speech, it has not affected his intellectual ability.
Stunning photos show the Smith family, who are based in Melbourne, in various exotic locations around the world, including India, Mongolia, Sweden, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka.
Cooper’s mum Bronwyn Leeks (43) believes that a positive outlook and forward planning can allow anybody to travel to exotic locations.
She explained: “I would never say any trip is impossible as we are pretty set on never saying never!
“Of course [Cooper’s wheelchair] makes it difficult but honestly it’s what we know and what we do so it’s just part of the travel.
“Even though some days may be tough, we just do things a little differently and the challenge and achieving the goal outweighs the tough bits.
“All disabilities are so very different so one person will not have the exact same needs as another of course.
“Cooper is in a position where he can walk a little himself and self-transfer so that makes things a lot easier as far as getting on a plane.
“In fact we find the destination is usually pretty accessible but it’s the getting there that is complicated.
“The airline industry needs a lot more training on helping support everyone to access a flight I think, especially the bathrooms.
“Some people say ‘I don’t know how you do it’ to which we reply ‘why wouldn’t we?’
“Cooper is our child and like his siblings deserves to explore the world. He’s a foodie and loves being on holiday, especially in Europe.”
In an unusual twist of fate, it was Cooper’s condition that ignited a passion for family travel.
“When Cooper was 18 months old we accessed some therapy in Singapore and from then we decided to show him more and more places to show him that anything is possible,” added Bronwyn.
“I think it is essential to step outside your comfort zone. I believe very strongly in showing the kids difference in all forms and challenging ourselves.”
Aside from travelling the world and running a foodie Instagram, Cooper has also modelled for a major Australian retailer Kmart.
Despite Cooper’s determination and enthusiasm, for many parents, the idea of travelling with young children – Cooper’s siblings Pepper and Woody are aged ten and seven respectively – is daunting enough.
The Smith family are living proof that it’s well worth taking the plunge and going on a grand adventure, no matter how intimidating the prospect may be.
“Rather than focus on the ‘what ifs’ just do it,” stated Cooper’s mother, who is looking forward to a family trip to Myanmar later this year.
“You can only plan so much so why not just take the chance.
“It doesn’t have to be overseas either it can be an hour down the road as long as you are doing something different.
“We took a three-month trip to Asia when [husband] Andrew had long service leave from work.
“We explored seven countries and really learnt so much about ourselves and how we work together while we explore.
“We stayed in a Mongolian Ger, walked the Great Wall of China, enjoyed night markets in Taiwan, visited flower fields in Japan, and saw orangutans in Borneo.
“I love taking photos of the kids engaging in new surroundings. I like showing people that even though we travel a little differently we have heaps of passion to explore.
“It’s not so much the destination but more the people you will meet, the new experiences, the food, the culture and you’ll no doubt learn more about yourself than you would staying at home.”
That said, the Smith family’s journey has not been without its own speedbumps.
“The worst was losing Pepper on a Chinese train,” recalled Bronwyn with a shudder.
“The doors shut and off she went!
“No doubt the longest 10 minutes of my life.
“We got her at the next stop all okay but we now have a firm rule of entering the train in a ‘adult, child, child, child, adult’ formation!
“We also wear ID tags with our contact details.
“The best bits are always those incidental experiences that cannot be planned.
“Things like meeting a tuk tuk driver in India who took us to his home for a cooking lesson.
“It’s all there, you just have to go for it.”
For more information on the Smith’s travels, please visit www.smithsholidayroad.com