BIG READ: Rogan’s road back from horror motorbike crash
Rogan Dean recounts the day his life changed forever without so much as a hint of self-pity.
Sitting at a Caneland Central Coffee Club table with his left leg laid up on a chair and crutches to the side, the former Sarina man takes a deep breath and readies his story as mum Leeanne Johnstone excuses herself - it's not so easy for her.
On August 16, Dean was returning home from a Sunday afternoon motorbike ride to Redcliffe with a friend when a car cut across two lanes from a side street and hit him.
Dean was sent flying over the handlebars and into the Sandgate Rd bitumen - bruised, bloodied but seemingly OK. Until he realised he wasn't.
A LONG FOUR MONTHS
Four months and three surgeries later, Dean is yet to properly begin life with his prosthetic left leg.
"The accident itself severed my foot off at the ankle," he explained.
"The first surgery was just an emergency, where they tidied up the end of the wound itself.
"They kept the end of it open; one, because there wasn't enough skin left to close it off anyway but two, because they wanted to give me an option."
He was given mere hours to make the life-changing decision between prosthetic foot or leg - each with a long list of cons Dean never thought he would have to consider.
"They could go in and skin graft the bottom of my leg and fit a prosthetic foot … in terms of looking normal, you couldn't really tell (the difference) but in terms of walking on it, that was about it. I wouldn't be able to run, I wouldn't be able to put much weight on it," Dean said.
"The second option was to go in and cut (the leg) off at mid-shin. That would mean having a prosthetic leg. But it would open up more opportunities to be able to run, swim, bike ride; all the things I was able to do before the accident, I would be able to do again.
"So of course, that's the route I went down."
His first hospital stint spanned nine days and two surgeries. When he was released, Dean stayed in an apartment close to the hospital so he could return for regular check-ups.
After six weeks, doctors began the process to fit his prosthetic leg "and it was another four weeks before they finally conceded the surgery hadn't been done right," he said.
A month later, on November 10, he went under the knife once again to correct the previous surgery and two days before Christmas Dean was fitted with another prosthetic, before flying home to be with family in Mackay.
MIND OVER MATTER
Six days after landing in hospital, a COVID-19 scare in Brisbane forced friends and family from the visitors' room and Dean had to face his mental demons alone.
To that point he had stayed strong in the face of concerned loved ones but the reality of his situation finally began to sink in.
"I was there for three days by myself and that's when I decided I'd had enough," he said.
"I was going crazy staring at four walls all day. I asked the doctors what I needed to do to get out - they said I needed to be off the pain relief and … the six machines they had hooked up to me."
It took two days but just like every other hurdle he previously had to face, Dean came out on top.
Unfortunately, it was only the start of a long road back.
For a man whose identity was founded in his athleticism and impressive physical traits, Dean was quickly forced to come to terms with a whole different future.
"I definitely had some tough days; I think I'll still have some tough days for quite a while (yet)," he said.
"It was all pretty hard to take, being that I'm very active and health and fitness has been something that's always been part of my life.
"I won't be able to play any competitive footy anymore, but I'll just have to look at other sporting options."
Dean will never again add to his 33 tries and 70 Intrust Super Cup caps.
The man affectionately known as 'Guns', owing to his muscular physique, demanded cult-hero status in rugby league circles and was a beloved member of the Ipswich Jets - still is a beloved member.
"I was getting support from everywhere, which was a bit overwhelming at first," Dean said.
"The rugby league community itself, it doesn't really matter who you're playing for or where, you're part of one big community and everyone starts reaching out.
"I've been lucky enough to make a lot of good friends through all the teams I've played for."
One such friend is former Jets teammate Ben Shea.
Friendly rivals in the gym and on the training track, the pair quickly forged a footy and fitness bond that stayed strong even after Shea jumped ship to play for rival Intrust Super Cup side Redcliffe.
Shea was in the final throes of preparation for an incredible mental and physical test of his own - seven marathons in seven days - when he learned of his mate's accident.
"One day I was on a training run and thinking about players who could run a marathon at the drop of a hat and the first bloke that came to mind was Rogan," Shea said.
"Rogan is a freak athlete. He could probably walk into the gym any day of the week and squat 200kg, or stand at the start and run a marathon.
"The next day I got a call from (Jets chairman) Steve Johnson to say that Rogan had been in an accident. It was crazy in my head how that matched up."
If Shea needed any more motivation to get to the end of his own personal challenge, he found it in Dean.
"I was in contact with Rogan through that whole period. Then at the start I said to him 'I'm dedicating these to you, brother'," Shea said.
"Everyone looked at me doing seven marathons thinking it was a hard thing but really, it was a blessing to be able to get up every morning and strap the shoes on and go for a run.
"I remember talking to him for the two days after he'd lost his foot and he just kept saying 'there's a lot of people in worse situations than me. I'll be back from this'.
"I was thinking how crazy that mindset is, for a guy that's just lost his foot and a lot of his identity was based around being so athletic."
Dean said Shea's constant contact even through the seven-day trial from hell helped get him through the early stages of life without a left foot.
"He's a really nice bloke, Benny Shea. He was checking in with me every day after each run letting me know how he went and how he was feeling and stuff," Dean said.
"I think after his first couple his feet were just covered in blisters - they looked horrible. But one of the things he said to me that got him through it was he looked down at his feet and thought 'at least I have a foot to be sore'."
Dean ends his sentence with a chuckle. His is a calm demeanour, not a facade, that belies the challenges he has faced and will continue to endure.
But that's who he is - and why Shea has no doubt his mate will succeed on whatever path he takes.
"I don't know if this is a bad thing to say or not, but the first thing that came to mind as soon as I heard what had happened was, 'he's winning gold medals'," Shea said of Dean.
"Whatever he chooses to do next, whatever sport he takes up or whatever it is he goes into … he'll smash it."
Dean is adamant his injury will not define his future.
It's why he made the call to amputate further up his leg, so that once his prosthetic is properly fitted the world will be his oyster once again.
"The biggest thing for me is I don't want this to be a burden on my life now," he said.
"I want to go back and do everything I was doing before the accident - prove it's not the end of the world.
"If anything, it's made me even more determined to just get out there and prove to myself and everyone else that I'm still capable."
In 2017, Dean ran the New York Marathon. He plans to do so again, in the not-too distant future. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
He's already back in the gym, albeit in a limited capacity to before, and has swapped running for swimming as a means to stay fit.
Prior to his accident Dean had begun cycling - he wanted to add a triathlon to his long list of athletic accomplishments. It's still on that list.
"I need to find something competitive that I can do, to fuel that side of me," he said.
"I don't know what that is yet, whether that's through the Paralympics or some other sport; powerlifting, or maybe cycling.
"I spoke to a guy in Brisbane who had the same accident as me and he got into cycling because it's something you're able to do while still competing against fully-abled people … so that's something I'm considering."
But his heart is not lost to rugby league.
Even though Dean will never play at a high level again, he plans to put his expertise to good use elsewhere, as a strength and conditioning coach at the Jets.
"They're putting me through all my fitness courses and stuff to get my qualifications so that I can go back as a strength and conditioning coach. That way I can stay involved and give back," he said.
"The last season or so I was involved I loved my footy out there. It's a great club - very family oriented. The support they've given me throughout the whole process has been great.
"Although I can't play, I still want to stay involved with Ipswich."
When Dean moves back into his newly renovated Kedron home in mid-February, all going well, he will be in the final stages of fitting his prosthetic leg.
Hopefully, he has some extra wardrobe space set aside.
"I'll end up having a wardrobe full of different legs," he said with a laugh.
"I'll have a normal, everyday sort of one and then separate ones for running, cycling, swimming - a different leg for every occasion."
Until then it's all about regular physiotherapy and planning for the future, whatever that holds.
And though it is uncertain, Dean's outlook remains assured. And his friends and family are confident the future is bright.
"For me, it's the mindset he's had during this time. To a guy like 'Guns' Dean, losing his foot would shatter a lot of people. I'm sure he's had plenty of hard times since. But his outlook on life is what makes Rogan Rogan," Shea said.
"He's such a champion bloke. It's a privilege for me to know him, talk to him and get inspiration from him. I can't wait to see what path he chooses and what the next couple of years have in store for him. He'll be inspiring people no matter what."