Mitchell Bond will never get the opportunity to play AFL football, but on Saturday night he experienced the next best thing when he led the Geelong Cats onto Simonds Stadium in the lead up to their Round 19 match against the Sydney Swans.
The 12-year-old boy from Leopold contracted Transverse Myelitis at just six months of age. The neurological disorder caused by inflammation across the spinal cord left him with partial paralysis of the legs, which requires him to use crutches or a wheelchair to get around.
With the assistance of Cats' captain, Joel Selwood, Mitchell, dressed in the full Geelong kit, proudly led the team through the banner and onto the field in front of a crowd of more than 30,000 fans.
It was not only an experience of a lifetime for Mitchell, but also an extremely proud moment for the rest of his family who joined him on the field.
"Mitchell loves his AFL and I have no doubt that he would be playing the game if he could. So to have the chance to run onto the ground with some of his heroes is a moment that will live with all of us for a long time," Mitchell's father, Scott Bond, said.
"He was just beaming when he ran onto the field and we haven’t been able to wipe the smile off his face since."
Despite his disability, Mitchell is an active young sportsman. For the past four years he has played wheelchair basketball at Try Boys Stadium in Geelong and three ago started wheelchair racing, and trains under the guidance of Geelong-based, three-time Paralympian, Richard Colman.
The Cats' elite partner, nib health funds, and their charitable organisation, nib foundation made Mitchell's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible.
In 2015, nib foundation established a multi-year partnership with Disability Sport & Recreation to develop the Score! Program, which aims to connect the one million Victorians with a disability, as well as their carers and families, with accessible and inclusive sport and recreation programs.