Imagine suddenly finding yourself no longer able to go rafting. One day you’re a great adventurer, enjoying the wilds of nature, guiding in stunning locations around the world. And the next, you’re a tetraplegic. That freedom has been whipped away from you in an instant. How would you cope with this?
This is what happened to Jezza Williams, a Kiwi country kid. A born adventurer from humble beginnings with a wilderness playground at his doorstep who quickly graduated to being a world traveller and international outdoor guide.
Jezza started his adventuring in 1998 by becoming a river guide with Ultimate Descents in New Zealand. In the winter months he worked in the ski resorts becoming head of Ski Patrol. But the wider world was calling and so he headed over to Europe to work with Swiss Adventures as a river guide, climbing instructor, doing commercial team events and as a sailing guide. Through the coming years he worked with Omega Tours in Honduras, and back in New Zealand with Eco Rafting Heli Rafting Experts and River Valley, variously as a river guide or trip leader or expedition leader or operations manager.
In 2004 Jezza spent 18 days guiding 12 clients through La Mosquitia, Rio Platano U.N. Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, the largest wilderness area in Central America. It was a totally self supported expedition where they travelled with 4×4, mules, rafts, dugout canoes and a bush hopper plane. In 2005 he did a solo expedition through the hostile jungle of Rio Sambo, Darien Gap in Panama. This took two months and he travelled via fishing boat and dugout canoe.
He also squeezed in working at Raging Thunder in Australia, and Wedge Rafting in Whistler, Canada. In 2008 he started working for Water By Nature which saw him doing multi-day, self supported river expeditions in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, and the Zambezi River, Zambia.
He was working for Outdoor Interlaken, Switzerland, as a river and canyon guide when, in 2010, his world turned upside down. A life changing canyoning accident nearly cost him his life and he found himself losing all independence. The accident left Jezza as a tetraplegic but through the two years of rehabilitation and onwards he has never let his disability take control. He has never stopped pushing the limits.
Jezza has gone from an able-bodied expert in adventure tourism to a world expert in inclusive tourism and travel, revolutionising adaptive adventure. Always moving forward, he became the first tetraplegic to complete the 26 000 km Mongol Rally from London to Mongolia and back again, and now is New Zealand’s first tetraplegic solo paragliding pilot. He also frequently now rafts on Class 3/4 rivers in a specially designed seat for tetraplegia clients.
In 2012 Jezza established Makingtrax which is the Benchmark of Inclusive Tourism NZ. It focuses on the experience rather than infrastructure. Through the simplicity of education, information, cooperation and only if needed adaption. It opens the tourism industry to everyBODY. Their vision is to see New Zealand tourism embrace all abilities and adapt their offerings, providing ultimate experiences to all. Makingtrax is a not for profit platform dedicated to inclusive tourism.
Jezza has recently become a very active and key part of the IRF #RiverFamily as he has been the driving force behind the creation of the IRF’s Para-rafting rules and regulations which is to be launched shortly. As an active participant in wheel chair rugby, Jezza is well placed to be involved in this and his belief that Para-raft racing has great potential has seen him use his incredible drive to generate the much needed and very complex rules, regulations, safety and supporting documents needed before the IRF can launch itself into Para-raft racing.
Jezza believes your only limitation is yourself. And it certainly seems he has none!
Two stunning videos of Jezza and Makingtrax: