Brave Barney

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

He was cut down in the prime of life and told he would never walk or breath for himself, again. But Barney Miller refused to believe what doctors were telling him.

I travelled to California to meet the man redefining determination with the help of his friends, his family and one very special program.

"In terms of the therapy, what's the ultimate goal, where's this going to lead Barney?" I ask.

"I'm going to walk again but sort of my next big goal is at the wedding to have first dance with Kate and that's what I'm going to do," Barney said.

It was a moment few us of could even hope to experience. One year ago, during a Major League Baseball game in San Diego, Barney got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend Kate.

"He wakes up every morning so happy and I just don't understand it, he's like good morning! And I'm like really," Kate said. "There are no words to describe how much I love him."

Barney Miller is a knockabout Aussie lad from a place called Sawtell, on the North Coast of New South Wales. Born and raised near the ocean, Barney became an avid surfer, travelling the world, and becoming mates with professionals, including world champion Mick Fanning.

"One time in Hawaii we (Barney and Fanning) just clicked like, I think we just partied together and we caught up again the following year at Geoffrey's Bay and it stemmed from there," Barney said. "He's been such an amazing like role model and just introducing me to so many amazing people and yeah he's just such a top bloke."

One a rainy morning as a mate was driving Barney home he lost control on a bend. The van rolled and collided with a tree. The driver sustained minor injuries. Barney had to be cut free from the wreck.

"Yeah I did and I was like how did I survive? The van was crashed to about 3 foot 4 foot tall, it was flat," Barney said.

"What did the doctors or the specialist say after looking at you and working out the extent of the injury?"

"They told me that I would never I would never be able to breath by myself like I'd be on a ventilator for the rest of my life, I'd never regain movement of my right arm which is now my strongest and number one I'd never be able to walk again," Barney said.

Barney badly twisted and damaged the C5, C6 vertebrae in his upper back/neck. Experts classed it as a 'complete injury'- even though his spinal cord was not severed, they gave him no chance of recovering movement below the injury.

"There was definitely low times but looking back I can see how low they were but at the time alcohol was a big thing you drown your sorrows it's like where you just don't know what to do so let's just get on the beers cause everything sort of changes when you're drunk.

"Ii guess in the beginning there's definitely anger but then you channel that anger to prove them wrong… I think that's the number one thing is I love proving people wrong and it just ignites the fire and keeps the fire burning the more and more you start doing that," Barney said.

Around the time Barney decided to devote every moment to his goal of walking, he met someone at his hometown's annual chilli festival.

"I met a pretty special lady there and the chilli festival is such an awesome event that our local town has I suppose you haven't heard of it it's massive!" Barney laughed.

"I took her number and I said let's just hang out and I said let's just hang out and she's like yeah cool, cool and I said its Amanda isn't it? She goes its Kate! And I said s#%t, its love isn't it!"

Talking with Kate, it's clear she loves him. "When you see Barney who do you see?"

" I see someone who will never take no as an answer someone that has been dealt a bad card in life but will never ever use that as an excuse for anything. If anything he uses as a motivation to do it better than he might have been able to do it before," Kate said.

Barney and Kate spend six months of the year in a little town named Carlsbad, 90 minutes south of Los Angeles. It has a beach that Barney loves, but more importantly it is home to Project Walk, the rehabilitation program helping him to achieve his goals.

"Barney's in what we call phase 3 which is what we consider our strengthening phase and that's where we trying to get him to better connect to his body with eccentric and concentric muscle contractions so he actually, he has voluntary movement," said Eric Harness, a co-founder of Project Walk.

People come here from all over the world for help. In 2008 a study conducted by the University of California found that this method of rehabilitation resulted in a 70% improvement in movement below the point of a severe injury. Project Walk's approach is based on getting participants out of the wheelchair.

"I'd say that if you don't try you're never going to know... if you don't try to get better you're never going to get better… if you just sit in a wheelchair you're not going to get any better, you have to get out of that wheelchair to try and regain function, you know, even if you do it at home you know... there are opportunities to do these types of exercises at home and people should try and take advantage of that," Harness said.

As we film Barney working with a trainer, he lets go of Barney's hips and he stands alone for the first time since his accident in 1999. It is another landmark breakthrough proving that Barney is regaining motor function and is on track to fulfil his dreams.

With the help of his friends, Barney is also getting back in the water, wearing a flotation vest and riding his modified surfboard.

One onlooker watching Barney surfing said, "It's pretty cool, I've never seen anything like it, honestly, it's cool to see people helping each other like that, it's awesome, he is so excited to be in the water!"

Now Barney is set to star in a documentary, being made about his journey back from the brink. Lorenzo De Campos and Taylor Monte, two young filmmakers from New York, already have 300 hours of Barney on video.

"It's called No Means Go ( and we're filming basically his whole life. Every aspect of it, his childhood with his friends in Australia," said Lorenzo. "We got his entire childhood and now we're filming him now surfing and learning to walk again and trying to just get his entire life."

"Will you stand up on a board again?" I ask Barney.

"Definitely I can tell you that's definitely my number one goal in life right now," he replied.

Barney and Kate tell us they're planning their wedding in 2015 and the dance they intend to share on their first night as husband and wife. We wish them both well.

Story Links:

No Means Go Documentary

Barney's Fiancé Kate - YouTube Channel

Project Walk

For more information on the Barney Miller Surf Classic, and his fundraising efforts, visit his website: