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Michelle Errichiello’s journey from real estate to the Paralympics and back

It isn’t often that someone’s story leaves you speechless, but Michelle Errichiello, co-director of Raine&Horne Essendon, has one of those stories. She spoke with Hannah Blackiston about the accident that changed her life forever, her career as a Paralympian and how her office swept the Raine & Horne Victorian State Awards.

Michelle Errichiello has lived in the Essendon area her whole life, attending a local school and getting her start in real estate as a receptionist at Raine & Horne Ascot Vale. It’s here she was working when an out of control vehicle hit her in 2007, resulting in her right leg being amputated above the knee. She was just 24 when the accident happened, and due to be married to her partner (and co-director of Raine & Horne Essendon) Mark in 10 months.

“When I lost my leg, it was 10 months before Mark’s and my wedding date, so I had to learn to walk again so I could walk down the aisle, then I had to be able to dance so I could dance our wedding waltz.

“But after that, I wanted to be able to run, because when I was trying to get a prosthetic leg made I kept being told there’s no way you’re going to be walking down the aisle, your dad is going to have to push you down in a wheelchair.

“But I was adamant and in my mind, I thought well if walking is going to be so hard to do then I want to run. And I was told to forget about it, you’re never going to run again.”

You might think Michelle was an athlete prior to her accident which is what triggered the need to run, but she wasn’t.

She says she wasn’t even someone who set goals before the accident, instead, she was cruising her way through life the way many of us do, happy to take each day as it comes.

But the accident woke something inside her which ended up becoming so large it led her to the London Paralympic Games in 2012.

“Losing my leg at 24, I had to be ok with having a permanent disability, and my only way to be ok with it was being able to do something that had been deemed impossible. If I could run I would be ok with it.”

Proving everyone wrong, Michelle did walk herself down the aisle, and she and Mark had their bridal waltz. Then, after the honeymoon, it was time for the next hurdle.

Michelle was still determined she would learn to run. She had a running leg made, but when she first tried it out she wasn’t even able to walk, never mind run. So she reached out to the Australian Paralympic Committee, who just happened to be finishing up their training for the Beijing Games.

Michelle made the trip to Frankston and within 30 minutes she was running. When she got home that afternoon there was an email from the committee saying that if, after six months, she enjoyed running she should begin competing with the potential goal of the London games. That was when the switch flipped for Michelle and she knew what her next goal would be.

“When I saw those four words, London Paralympic Games 2012, I said, I don’t know how but I’m going there. It’s going to happen. I’ve got four years and I’m doing it.

“This wasn’t me, at school I had a stack of notes in the back of my diary to get me out of PE, I was fit, I’d go for a jog and had a gym membership, but I hated team sports. But I knew I was going to get there.”

This determination came from someone who not only wasn’t an athlete prior to her accident but wasn’t a goal setter. But when she lost her leg, Michelle realised she needed to take her life back.

For her first few days in hospital, her husband Mark told her the nurses had warned him about feeding her, something he was doing because she was too tired to do it herself. Determined to take control of her recovery, when Mark came into the hospital the next day Michelle was eating her breakfast without any assistance.

“I was sitting up eating breakfast when he came in and he just stopped and stood in the doorway with this big beaming smile on his face and it sounds cliche, but it just gave me a really warm fuzzy feeling and then it clicked in my head that I had set my first goal at the age of 24.

“As little as it seemed, to be able to eat breakfast, for me at that time it was huge. As soon as I’d finished I had a two-hour sleep because I was so exhausted. But then goal setting and being able to achieve it started to get addictive and I was like, okay, what do I need to do now?”

The next step was crutches so she could take herself to the bathroom, but to get those Michelle needed to have her morphine removed. So she spent 24 hours not using it to convince the nurses she’d be ok without it. As soon as it was removed, she was on crutches.

“I realised I had to start goal setting from the day I lost my leg. It completely changed my life, I did a complete 180, but for the better.”

Sure enough, by 2012 Michelle was ready for the London Paralympic Games, where she competed in the T42 100m Final. During her training, she also broke the 100m and 200m T42 spring World Records and was awarded a Pride of Australia Medal of Courage.

Now Michelle is supporting other people who have acquired a disability in their life through the Back on Track program.

The program sees past and present Paralympians partnered with people who are striving to reach a goal. The six-month program involves regular phone calls and training camps and helps people who may have fallen into a bit of a rut or are struggling with their disability. It’s something very important to Michelle because of all the support she received during her recovery, without which she says she’d never have been able to achieve the amazing feats she has.

Real estate, and the office in Essendon, is something else that’s incredibly important to Michelle.

Having worked in many aspects of the business, from reception to property management, Michelle is now casting her experienced eye over the admin and management side of the business as co-director alongside husband Mark and Bree Dickson.

The business has thrived since it opened in 2017. At the 2018 Raine & Horne Victorian State Awards the team won four awards, with Jameson Roe named Rookie of the Year – Sales Person, Jacinta Bazzano taking out Outstanding Receptionist and Bree Dickson winning Outstanding Property Manager. This is alongside the win Michelle herself secured for Outstanding Office Support. The office is obviously a very tight-knit family, and Michelle is thrilled about their success both at the awards and in the community.

“We smashed it! I think it’s because we have a heart. The staff that we have here they love doing what they’re doing. They love customer service. It’s not about driving a hard bargain to get a deal done. It’s about forming relationships with people and doing what you love and trusting that success will come from that.

“For us it’s not about getting the business in the door, it’s about building relationships first and then the business will automatically come. We all genuinely like what we do and we’re doing it for the right reasons.”

“We’ve created this environment where it’s open plan, no one sits in an office, there are no closed doors. Yes, we have a receptionist and she has her job to do, but if she’s busy and the phone rings then someone else will grab the call. We all work to make this office run smoothly, there’s no hierarchy here.

“We’ve got a great office culture and it flows on naturally to great customer service for clients. The feedback we get is incredible.”

For Michelle and the team 2019 is all about keeping up with the great work they’re already doing. For a company that’s fairly new on the scene, they’re still striving to get their names and faces out there, and build a great relationship in the community. But from the great office culture to the family and disability friendly office they have in Essendon, it seems like Michelle, Mark and the rest of the team have found the right formula for success.

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