Athletics queen Madison de Rozario and snowboard star Ben Tudhope have been named Australia’s Paralympians of the Year for 2020 and 2022 at the Paralympics Australia Awards in Sydney tonight.
De Rozario claimed the highest honour in Australian Para-sport after her heroics at the Tokyo 2020 Games, her fourth Paralympics, where she won the Marathon (T54) and 800 metres (T53) and took bronze in the 1500 metres (T54).
The three-time World Champion had not previously won Paralympic gold, but established herself as a global superstar of wheelchair racing at Tokyo before taking out the famous New York Marathon in November last year.
De Rozario was earlier named 2020 Female Athlete of the Year, completing an exceptional stage in the 28-year-old’s career, which began when she represented Australia at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games aged just 14.
“The Paralympics is the largest platform for people with disabilities and you want to do everything that you can with that platform,” she said.
“That is one of the incredible things that comes with being part of this Paralympic team. We prioritise the Paralympic movement and the impact it’s had on the 20 percent of Australians with disabilities is unreal. Honestly, it’s a privilege to be part of that.”
De Rozario becomes the fifth woman to be named Paralympian of the Year since the prize was established in 1994. The inaugural winner was wheelchair racing legend Louise Sauvage, who also won in 1996 and 1998. Sauvage now coaches De Rozario and was tonight awarded Coach of the Year for her outstanding guidance of the track champion.
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The nomination period for the Paralympics Australia Awards this year included the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, which were held in March. Snowboard star Ben Tudhope was named Paralympian of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year for 2022 after he won Australia’s only medal at Beijing, bronze in the snowboard Cross SB-LL2.
“I’m just a guy who loves snowboarding and wants to progress my skills as a snowboarder,” Tudhope said.
“I guess this is what comes along with it because I’m so determined and so motivated to actually continue to progress at something I love doing.
“To grow into someone who fell in love with the Paralympic community as well, and to put those things together into one, I really found who I am. This accolade for me is up there with one of the highest achievements that I ever had.”
Shortly before the Games, Tudhope, the Australian Paralympic Winter Team co-captain at Beijing, claimed the prestigious Crystal Globe as the overall SB-LL2 snowboard cross season Champion and the Crystal Globe as the most successful Para-snowboard athlete across all disciplines.
Tudhope’s coach, Par Sundqvist, was awarded the 2022 Coach of the Year. Recently-retired four-time Paralympian in alpine skiing Melissa Perrine and her sighted guide Bobbi Kelly won the 2022 Female Athlete of the Year.
Canoe racing great Curtis McGrath was named the 2020 Male Athlete of the Year. The former army combat engineer – who became a double leg amputee after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan in 2012 – retained the KL2 Para-canoe sprint title he won at Rio 2016 and also won gold in the newly included VL3 sprint at Tokyo 2020.
“Despite the challenges we faced, to come out and claim the two gold – and to be the only Para-canoeist to have done that – is something I look back on with great pride,” McGrath said.
“I feel very, very humbled to be acknowledged in this way. To be recognised among those amazing nominees is a true honour.”
The Rookies of the Year for the Summer and Winter Games were Para-swimmer William Martin and Para-alpine skier Josh Hanlon, respectively.
Martin, 21, became Australia’s most decorated athlete at Tokyo 2020, winning three gold medals and one silver and breaking two world records and a Paralympic record in the process.
Greg Martin said of his son: “From the minute that he had his stroke when he was six years old, he wouldn’t let anything stop him. He’s just the type of kid that just has a go and he just gives it everything he’s got. That’s what he’s done for his whole life and that’s what we’re most proud of.”
Hanlon, 24, a former budding Australian rules football star, announced his arrival as a potential future champion in sit-skiing with a sixth placing in the slalom and 11th in the giant slalom.
“It’s been a crazy few years, the whole introduction to the Paralympic world, Paralympic skiing, then getting to Europe, getting across to China – it’s been an unreal time,” Hanlon said.
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The Team of the Year went to the Women’s Table Tennis (Class 9-10), which consisted of Lina Lei, Qian Yang and Melissa Tapper. The trio won silver, contributing to by far the most successful Australian Para-table tennis campaign in Paralympic history.
“It’s the first time that we’ve come to the forefront and the light has really been shone on us,” Tapper said.
“To win this award is really exciting. We were just lucky to compete and we did awesome as a team. To walk away with a silver medal from Tokyo was a dream come true, but to do it as a team is even more special.”
The Paralympics Australia Awards also featured the induction of five new members to the Paralympics Australia Hall of Fame. The inductees were:
Nine-time gold medallist in shooting Libby Kosmala, who competed at a record 12 Paralympic Games between 1972 and 2016;
Thirteen-time Paralympic medallist Kurt Fearnley, who competed in wheelchair racing at five Paralympic Games between 2000 and 2016;
Three-time Paralympian and nine-time gold medal-winning swimmer Priya Cooper;
Swimmer Matthew Cowdrey who, with 13 Paralympic gold medals and 23 medals, is Australia’s all-time leading Paralympic Games medal winner;
Alpine ski racing great Michael Milton, who won six gold, three silver and two bronze medals to become Australia’s greatest Paralympic winter athlete.
Additionally, former Sport Australia Chair John Wylie was presented the Paralympic Medal, the highest award for a non-athlete, for his long-standing support and contribution to the Australian Paralympic Movement, while six-time Paralympian and Australian Paralympic Summer Team co-captain Danni Di Toro was presented the President’s Award for respect, honour and integrity.
Para-cyclist Stuart Jones won the Uncle Kevin Coombs Award for the spirit of the Games after he paused during his road race at Tokyo 2020 to encourage South Africa’s Toni Mould, who was struggling during the women’s event. The award is named after Kevin Coombs, who competed at the five Games, including the first in Rome in 1960, and became Australia’s first Indigenous Paralympian.
“I’ve never seen what I did in Tokyo as anything special,” Jones said. “It was just that I saw another athlete who I thought needed the encouragement. That’s all I did – I just encouraged.
“It’s me paying back what others have given me since my accident. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the help and the encouragement of others around me, my coaches, and the Australian team.”
- 2020 Rookie Of The Year – William Martin (swimming)
- 2022 Rookie Of The Year – Josh Hanlon (alpine skiing)
- 2020 Coach Of The Year – Louise Sauvage (athletics)
- 2022 Coach Of The Year – Par Sundqvist (snowboarding)
- Uncle Kevin Coombs Medallist – Stuart Jones (cycling)
- PA President’s Award – Danni Di Toro (table tennis)
- 2020 Female Athlete Of The Year – Madi De Rozario (athletics)
- 2022 Female Athlete Of The Year – Melissa Perrine (alpine skiing)
- 2020 Male Athlete Of The Year – Curtis McGrath (canoe)
- 2022 Male Athlete Of The Year – Ben Tudhope (snowboarding)
- 2020 Team Of The Year – Melissa Tapper / Qian Yang / Lina Lei (table tennis)
- Paralympic Medal – John Wylie (sports administration)
- Hall Of Fame inductees – Priya Cooper (swimming), Matt Cowdrey (swimming), Libby Kosmala (shooting), Michael Milton (alpine skiing), Kurt Fearnley (athletics)
- 2020 Paralympian Of The Year – Madison de Rozario (athletics)
- 2022 Paralympian Of The Year – Ben Tudhope (snowboarding)
By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 9 June 2022