The painful wait that ended in glory

 Three months before the Sydney Paralympics, Julie Higgins’ hip pain returned with a vengeance. However, after a 16-year break from the sport, forced by hip problems which required a replacement at age 25 – and despite being unable to take painkillers during the event for fear of a positive drugs test – there was nothing that could stop her from competing on her home turf. 

Higgins had started riding again after seeing the inaugural Para-equestrian event at Atlanta in 1996 and set herself the goal of representing Australia in 2000. Battling through discomfort, on this day 20 years ago, Higgins claimed the first of her two gold medals in Sydney, in the equestrian dressage individual test grade III, one of so many courageous performances by our Para-athletes at Sydney 2000. 

MORE: download your copy of The Australian Paralympian 20-year Anniversary souvenir magazine (PDF 6,526KB).

“If I’d have written a story to tell you what had happened, you wouldn’t believe it,” Higgins told ABC the night of her second success. 

“It’s been a goal that’s had its amazing highs and really punishing lows.” 

 

 

Higgins’ win was part of Australia’s second-most successful day of the Games, in which our Team claimed an incredible 11 gold medals. Para-athletics again led the way. Alison Quinn won gold in the 100 metres T38 with team-mate Katrina Webb taking silver, Lisa Llorens won the 200 metres T20, Tim Sullivan took out the 100 metres T44, Neil Fuller won the 200 metres T44, Lisa McIntosh claimed gold in the 100 metres T37, Louise Sauvage won the 1500 metres T54 and Jodi Willis-Roberts snared first in the shot put F12.  

For Fuller, his win in the 200 metres was particularly sweet and somewhat unexpected. American Roderick Green had broken the world record in the semi final and, coming off the bend, held a five metre lead over the Australian.  

“I couldn’t hear anything except what was going on in my head,” Fuller said.  

“There was just a voice saying, ‘Keep going, keep going, you’ve got him!’ With every step, I was narrowing the gap, focusing on the finish line.  

“We hit the line together and it seemed like an eternity, bobbing my head between the replay screen and the results screen, waiting for the result to come up.  

“When it brought my name up as first … even speaking about it now 20 years on, it brings those feelings back to me. ‘Oh my God, I’ve won’.”  

Gold also flowed from our Para-cyclists, with Lyn Lepore and Lynette Nixon taking out the tandem Road Race B and VI class and Mark le Flohic winning the Road Time Trial Div 2. 

Elsewhere, Richard Nicholson won a silver medal in the powerlifting men’s up to 60 kilograms category. Nicholson had competed in Atlanta, but quit powerlifting after Sydney and transferred to Para-athletics. He went on to become a highly accomplished T53-54 racer, claiming medals at the 2004 Athens Games and 2012 London Games.

Our thanks to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for providing the footage to support our 20-year anniversary celebrations.

For more information about the history of the Paralympic Movement in Australia, visit the Australian Paralympic History website.

By David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 25 October 2020