There are two types of people in the world: those who celebrate Christmas Day sharing plates piled high with food, Christmas cracker jokes and thoughtful handwritten cards with their loved ones around the family table; and those who think it’s just another day and hit up the Hungry Jack’s drive-through for lunch.
Ellidy Pullin is the latter.
In a case of opposites attract, Ellidy fell in love with Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin, the Olympic snowboarder, who always rushed home from competing overseas during the northern winter to be with his family at Christmas.
“I met Chumpy in 2013 and I literally had a Whopper burger meal for Christmas lunch that year, while he spent it with his parents and sister at their home in Eden. I didn’t tell Chumpy that for years because I was embarrassed about how low-key my Christmas was compared to his,” says Ellidy, smiling at the memory.
“The only Christmas tradition we had in our family was my brother and me getting our dad a $4 stick of surfboard wax as a gift. Every year, it was the same. And every year, he was stoked.”
For Ellidy, Christmas has always been about the small things. It still is.
This year, there is no grand plan for the day, except to start the morning at the beach with her daughter, Minnie, and kelpie, Rummi.
It’s at the beach where Ellidy feels most connected to her late partner Chumpy, who died two years ago.
They spent much of their eight-year relationship chasing the sun and surf together; from Sydney’s Northern Beaches where they first met, to the Gold Coast where they planted roots and planned to raise a family.
Tragically, things didn’t go according to plan.
The couple had been trying for a baby for eight months when Chumpy died in 2020.
He experienced a shallow water blackout while spearfishing at Palm Beach in Queensland. Ellidy was at home just up the road when their neighbour knocked on the door to tell her about a post on the local Facebook page saying a man was being pulled out of the water.
In that moment, Ellidy’s world stopped.
“The ocean gave [Chumpy] life,and I didn’t think for a second that it would take that same life away,” admits Ellidy, who went into survival mode.
“It’s all a blur now. I can tell you what happened on that day, but it’s a story rather than a memory. I don’t remember anything else about that day beyond the story I’ve been forced to tell.”
Ellidy was in the depths of her grief – just hours after Chumpy was pronounced dead – when the possibility of post-mortem sperm retrieval was raised.
It was her brother who first said the words to her, and she knew straight away it was something she wanted to do.
“Yes. Please, do it. That’s what I want,” she told her brother without any hesitation.
There wasn’t time for hesitation.
Under Queensland guidelines, post-mortem sperm retrieval needs to happen within 36 hours of death.
Ellidy’s loved ones rallied and hit the phones to find a fertility doctor from an IVF clinic to do the procedure, and a lawyer to help with the legalities.
The sperm retrieval happened in the 37th hour at 9pm, and back at the IVF clinic, it was discovered that only 1 per cent of the sperm showed a sign of life. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough.
On October 25, 2021 – 15 months after Chumpy died – Ellidy gave birth to their daughter, Minnie Alex Pullin.
Not long after, The Weekly photographed Ellidy and newborn Minnie in their first shoot together.
“Now she’s here, I just know that was so meant to be. I see and I feel so much of Chump in her. I know I’ve done the right thing so wholeheartedly,” she said at the time.
“Now that life has flashed in front of my eyes, I’ve realised that it is all so fragile. So, I take every moment as it comes.”
In the last year, Ellidy has certainly seized every moment.
Since our last shoot, she’s started recording the fourth season of her hit podcast, Darling, Shine with her best friend, Chloe Chapman, she’s united a community of “sister widows” around the world, and she’s published her memoir, Heartstrong.
She also turned 30, travelled Europe with Minnie, and hosted the inaugural Chumpy Pullin Foundation Gala.
“It’s been a big year, so all I want for Christmas is to be at home,” says Ellidy of the nesting base she made with Chumpy. “My door is always open. Literally, I never close it. So, anyone who wants to come over on Christmas is welcome to. Hopefully Chumpy’s parents, Chris and Sally, can make it up.”
The night before The Weekly’s photoshoot with Ellidy, Minnie and Rummi at Tallebudgera, it hailed. The storm hit hard and held tight. Come dawn, though, the skies had cleared, and the sun was ready to shine.
“It was a picture-perfect morning, the sunrise was beautiful, the tide was high, and Minnie was as happy as Larry,” says Ellidy.
It was almost as though someone above was looking out for them…
“We call Chumpy ‘Daddy in the sky,'” says Ellidy, who is preparing for Minnie’s second Christmas, and her third without Chumpy.
“There will be a couple of presents from him under the tree for Minnie. We talk about Chumpy all the time. Minnie knows everything about Chumpy. On Christmas, we’ll pay tribute to him by going to the beach together and playing his music at home. Obviously, [thinking of Chumpy] is hard, but it makes you feel better to celebrate the people you’ve lost on big days. It’s part of the healing process.”
Ellidy’s own healing process is ongoing.
Milestones bring back memories of happy times with Chumpy, which are bittersweet.
The couple shared seven Christmases together, most of them at his family’s house on the South Coast of NSW.
What mattered to them was being together, not extravagant gifts.
“One year, I bought Chump a chopping board,” she says, with a laugh. “He was the hardest person in the world to buy presents for, because he had everything.”
As hard as it was to buy him a gift, it’s harder not to buy him anything now.
Spending Christmas without Chumpy feels entirely wrong, but Ellidy’s grief comes second to Minnie now.
“I knew before I fell pregnant that having Minnie would accentuate parts of my grief, especially when we mark milestones without Chumpy, but having her outweighs all of that,” says Ellidy, who wants this Christmas to be special for her daughter.
There will be a Christmas tree, a Santa sack full of locally bought gifts for Minnie and an oven full of spinach and cheese pastries.
“Chumpy’s mum taught him how to make the spinach triangles with puff pastry, and we used to make them together on random occasions or if we were hungover and needing comfort food. I love them, and Chump loved them too, so they might become our little Christmas tradition,” says Ellidy, about keeping things low-key.
“I don’t want there to be any pressure on the day. I just want to cruise and make fun memories with Minnie.”
You can read this story and many others in our special Christmas edition of The Weekly – on sale now