The Australian Paralympic movement has lost one of its true trailblazers following the passing of the legendary Daphne Hilton, aged 82.
Hilton was Australia’s only female competitor at the first Paralympic Games in 1960 in Rome, Italy, and went on to achieve great success at three Paralympic Games, winning a career total of 14 medals across five different Paralympic sports.
It is a record that is unlikely to ever be broken.
Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) Chief Executive Lynne Anderson said Hilton’s contribution to Paralympic sport was immeasurable and her loss will be deeply mourned.
“The APC was very saddened to learn of Daphne’s passing and our sincere condolences are with Daphne’s family and friends,” Anderson said.
“Daphne was a pioneer for Paralympic sport and women’s sport and she has left an incredibly powerful legacy.
“Her outstanding athleticism was matched only by her versatility. She was certainly one of a kind.
“Until Daphne started to compete, sport for people with a disability was completely dominated by men. Her achievements at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960 demonstrated that Australia’s female athletes were perfectly capable of outperforming the men and opened the doors to other female Paralympic athletes to follow.
“Even at a time when Paralympic athletes often competed in more than one sport, Daphne’s achievement of winning Paralympic medals in five sports was exceptional and it’s a record that I’m certain simply won’t be surpassed.”
Hilton’s wheelchair sporting career began after a horse riding accident in her home town of Murrumburrah left her with paraplegia at the age of 17. She spent nine months in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital after her accident before returning to Murrumburrah.
At that time, rehabilitation was minimal and many people with spinal cord injuries had short life expectancies. After eight years back in her home town, Hilton learned of opportunities for genuine rehabilitation and moved to Sydney. At the Mt Wilga Rehabilitation Centre, she was introduced to competitive wheelchair sport and developed her skills in numerous events. During her time at Mt Wilga, she was selected as the only female competitor in the Australian team for the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
When she returned from the Games, her home town of Murrumburrah welcomed her with a parade and civic reception.
Hilton’s final Paralympic Games were in 1968 in Tel Aviv, Israel. She retired from Paralympic sport with a tally of 14 medals, a figure that was not surpassed by any Australian Paralympic athlete until 2000.
Daniela Di Toro, co-captain of the 2016 Australian Paralympic Team, said she always looked up to Hilton and felt a great sense of loss after hearing of her passing.
“As the first and only Australian female Paralympic athlete at the 1960 Games in Rome, she pioneered the way for all women with a disability wishing to pursue the dream of representing Australia,” Di Toro said.
“As our first female Paralympic gold medallist in Rome and with multiple medals across a number of sports throughout her Paralympic journey, Daphne shone a light on a path for all women with disabilities in this country to reach for the very best in themselves.
“She made the dream a reality for each and every one of us and we are grateful for all that she contributed to our movement.
“We are custodians of her legacy and hope to do her and all the past champions of our movement proud as we take the stage in Rio [for the 2016 Paralympic Games]. Vale Daphne.”
Hilton is survived by her husband Frank and daughters Rachael and Nichole.
By APC Media