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One step at a time

Korweinguboora resident Julie Matthews-Eva is the first person in the world to compete nationally in Ballroom dancing with a bionic leg. Photo - Meg Kennedy

By Meg Kennedy

Korweinguboora resident Julie Matthews-Eva has never been a stranger to adventure – from snow-skiing, scuba diving, to flying a plane.

The thing is, she’s done it all with an artificial leg.

Now, Ms Matthews-Eva is breaking new ground as the first person in the world to compete at a national level in Ballroom dancing with a bionic leg.

After an appearance last month on the Channel Nine reality TV show ‘This Time Next Year’, Ms Matthews-Eva pledged to dance again.

A year and a half later, taking up her first dancing lesson in April 2018, Ms Matthews-Eva has gone on to compete nationally in Ballroom dancing; with the waltz, foxtrot, tango and rumba her chosen styles.

Ms Matthews-Eva was born in New Zealand and moved to a 20-acre property in Korweinguboora with her husband in 2004.

She lost her left leg on her 16th birthday in 1980, following a diagnosis of bone cancer.

This led to a rare amputation known as hip disarticulation, which makes up less than one percent of the population of amputees.

Ms Matthews-Eva is following – quite literally – in the footsteps of her parents, who were both ballroom dancers.

“That was their first date, and then they always ballroom danced; my sisters ballroom danced, but I never really got the opportunity…although I danced around the living room…I always wanted to, and never could, and never thought I could, and now I can.”

Ms Matthews-Eva’s dream led to ground-breaking work to allow her to dance.

“It takes a long time to get prosthetics right, and this is the first, therefore the limb centre I’m working with, its new for them, they’re never done it before either,” she said.

In the 39-years since her amputation, Ms Matthews-Eva says there has been a noticeable shift in the societal acceptance of people living with a visible disability.

“In 1980, you hid your disability. You wore a cosmetic cover, and you really didn’t tell people you had an artificial leg, you just wore trousers, or you wore an artificial stocking,” she said.

“Whereas now, you have it on full display and you go ‘look at me’ – and that’s really come about because of the heroes from the war, and from athletes, who now show their disability.”

“The public are generally more accepting, so I think that’s quite different from when I lost my leg.”

Due to the design of her new leg, Ms Matthews-Eva has chosen not to wear a cosmetic cover as it would impede her ability to dance.

“I’ve now got commando leg; so, the bionic woman, robot woman, I get those sorts of comments, and kids now go ‘Wow, look at that, that’s really cool’”, she said.

“So, I have actually chosen to not wear it and say ‘Okay, well I’ll just own it.’”

Although she’s already become the ‘first’ at something, Ms Matthews-Eva’s thirst for adventure continues, with plans to ride a three-wheeled motorcycle around Australia and write a book.

“I want to tour Australia…get my driver’s licence…and I’ll probably travel around with the dog on the back, so that’s maybe the next challenge,” she said.

As for what she would tell her younger self, Ms Matthews-Eva joked to “keep the weight off!”, as getting her new leg meant having to lose 20-kilograms.

“I’ve always had the mantra of just one day at a time, I’ve woken up, I’m breathing, it’s a good day,” she said.

“But I would remind myself just make the best of every single day you get given. Because of none of us know…is a bus going to come and collect you? Is it going to be an aeroplane crash? Or is it going to be cancer or something else? None of us know that.

“So, love life passionately, and just do everything to the full…just try anything, just absolutely try anything.”

Ms Matthews-Eva hopes her story has inspired more people, no matter their ability, to put on their dancing shoes.

“[Dancing] is not just physical, it’s emotional, it helps with mental health. I think it’s really important, it’s actually proven that it can wind the clock back in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and I don’t think people realise that,” she said.

“I just encourage anybody to take it on and to try.”

Ms Matthews-Eva’s episode is available to stream online at 9Now on www.9now.com.au/this-time-next-year/season-2/episode-6.