Rising Paralympic star Rachael Watson proved herself to be a future Paralympic legend, when in Rio, she won gold in the 50m freestyle S4 in a Paralympic record time of 40.14. A huge achievement at her first Paralympic Games, she dedicated the win to her parents for teaching her how to roll with the punches in life.
At the 2016 Australian National Championships, she came within a whisker of the S4 world record for the 100m freestyle, catching the eye of both athletes and coaches of the Australian Paralympic Swimming squad.
She made her international debut just a few months later at the IDM Berlin Open, where she won the women’s 50m freestyle in an S4 Oceania record time of 39.97 – not far behind the world record, Rachael proved she has what it takes to medal at Rio.
Rachael is a triplet, and was diagnosed with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy when she was two-years-old, resulting from being born nearly four months prematurely. She first took up swimming as a form of physiotherapy and pain relief, but was eventually classified as a S8 athlete and began working towards her goal of competing at the Paralympic Games. While her main focus became her studies and volunteer work, Rachael’s priority in swimming was to remain fit.
When Rachael was 21-years-old, she acquired Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an autoimmune disease causing rapid muscle and peripheral nervous system damage. The cause remains unknown, but with the hope of reaching the pinnacle of her sport still in mind, Rachael learned to swim again. This process was physically and emotionally gruelling, and involved wearing a life jacket for several months.
Before acquiring Guillain-Barré Syndrome Rachael could walk well and drive a regular car. She was employed as a learn-to-swim instructor and studied at university, and had also earned honours in AMEB piano and music theory exams.
In April 2015 Rachael began training with coach Rob Hindmarsh, and was reclassified as a S4 athlete. Since then, she has broken four Oceania records – 200m, 100m and 50m freestyle, and 50m butterfly.
Outside of swimming Rachael enjoys volunteering, and in 2011 she was named the Queensland Young Volunteer of the Year. She currently volunteers at the Children’s Hospital Foundation, where she supports patients and their families in the operating theatre at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in South Brisbane. Rachael also has aspirations to travel, citing mainland Europe and the UK as the areas she is most interested in exploring.