Our athletes and their experiences
Recently retired Matthew Cowdrey OAM said
it’s incredible to think how far the Paralympic Games and the para-sport movement in general have come since his first Games. The three-time Paralympian is the most successful Australian Paralympian in history, having won a total of 23 Paralympic medals including 13 gold. Matthew named the Athens 2004 games as a turning point.
“Instead of swimming in the outdoor pool in Athens we were in the indoor water polo pool that was obviously significant smaller in seating capacity. There's a range of other things that you notice in retrospect but at the time, when you were there, was the most exciting thing I've ever done. I just loved every second of it.”
“I think we had maybe a half an hour highlights package on the TV and that was it. In many ways, I was lucky I grew and matured in the same way that the movement grew and matured across all the years that I was involved.”
Following on from the Athens Paralympics, Paralympic gold medallist, Kurt Fearnley OAM
addressed his experiences during his 2013 Australia Day speech
“Things slowly built over the next two games in Athens and Beijing, however, the advances were more on the sporting field than off it. The approach and performance of the athletes were becoming more professional, teams were better prepared, athletes were faster and stronger.
London made us athletes feel like superstars, not just gladiators in the eyes of our peers but genuine superstars. Everywhere you looked across the city of London, every disability was proudly displayed across buildings and banners. You were stopped in the streets, not just because you were in a uniform but also because people knew your name and what you did. Major corporations featured Paralympic athletes in their advertising campaigns. You couldn't switch on the television or pick up a paper without being smacked in the face with the Paralympics.
We may have shared venues with our Olympic brothers and sisters but by the time the Paralympics came around they were long gone, and this was obviously our stage. Seeing the corporate world support and be the standard-bearer for Paralympic sport was something that I'd always hoped would become a reality and it really was that way in London.”
The Paralympic movement has always been associated with changing perceptions around disability, but Paralympics Australia Chief Executive, Lynne Anderson celebrates
the incredible influence of females within the Australian sporting landscape.
“I’m still in awe when I read the story of Daphne Ceeney
(Australia’s first female Paralympian and first Paralympic gold medallist of either gender).
It’s really impossible for me to comprehend the drive and focus to get to where she was. She was the only female member of that team and she turned around and won more medals than anyone else. That to me, should never be forgotten.
Fast forward to 2019 and we have Daniela Di Toro
. Six Paralympic Games and still competing and chasing her sporting dreams.”
Dylan Alcott OAM
is an undeniable shining star in the realms of para-athletes has also seen a positive change over the years explaining
that 15 to 20 years ago athletes with a disability had to pay to compete.
“There was no funding, no-one cared. The changing of the tide is now, and sponsors are realising that. If they don’t, they’ll regret not getting involved.”
“I’m the lucky one who has it at the moment,” reflected Alcott. “The next generation of young athletes, other sports, they deserve the same thing. They train just as hard as the Roger Federers, Usain Bolts, Michael Phelpses, whoever it is. It means the world to me to be able to cut through, break that glass ceiling. Hopefully it flows on for years to come and this becomes the norm.”
“When I made the switch to play tennis from basketball, I remember I said to Tennis Australia, ‘I really want you to treat me like a professional tennis player first and foremost, who just happens to have a disability’,” said Alcott. “I wanted to get treated like Nick Kyrgios did, or Thanasi Kokkinakis, or Sam Stosur or Lleyton Hewitt.”
“I remember as a 14-year-old lying in bed and all I wanted to do was make it in the mainstream in some way,” he tearfully recalled
after lifting his latest Australian Open trophy.
“I wanted to show we could be normal people, get a job, have a partner – I just wanted to see people with a disability succeeding in the mainstream.”