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Australia’s most successful athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games works as a labourer.

Not that you’ll hear super swimmer William Martin complain about it.

The winner of three gold medals and a silver wouldn’t have minded interest from potential sponsors since he scooped the pool at his debut Games, but he’s been quite happy to keep things “on the down-low” and follow the example of hard work and humility his parents Greg and Loretta have always provided.

“Not too much has changed,” said Martin, who set two world records and a Paralympic record at Tokyo and will represent Australia at the Duel in the Pool against the United States this weekend.

“I’m training hard and still have my day job as a labourer, so that’s good.”

You work as a what?

“I think it shocks a lot of people. But it just came up. Dad’s mate’s a ‘chippy’ and he asked me if I was available to do any labour work for him. Then after Tokyo, I had a paver ask me if I was available to work for him as well. So I’ve been keeping in between the two of them.

“It’s just available work really and it’s good to switch off for a bit rather than spend the whole day thinking. You don’t really have to do much thinking when you’re labouring. You just stand there and dig a hole.”

‘Typical laidback Queenslander’ comes to mind when you chat to Martin. Then you realise this is a 21-year-old who’s spent three-quarters of his life fighting back.

At the Paralympics Australia Awards in June, after he was named Rookie of the Year, Martin’s father Greg was asked if he had been surprised by his son’s success.

“From the minute that he had his stroke when he was six years old, he just wouldn’t let anything stop him,” Greg said.

“He did surprise us. We didn’t know that he would go as well as he did over there. We thought the butterfly was a good chance but the 400 free’ was something that surprised us. He put his mind to it, his coach put him forward to do it and he’s just the type of kid that has a go.

“He gives it everything he’s got – and that’s what he’s done his whole life. That’s what I’m proud of the most.”

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Martin’s stroke at age six was the result of an earlier aneurysm and the outcome was right side paralysis.

“When you’re young you’re always up and about and wanting to join in the fun with everyone else,” he said. “That’s what I remember wanting to do back then and I think it helped in my recovery.

“I wanted to be able to walk and talk again, to be able to play tag in the playground or kick a footy. Being young you have all that energy and then you’re adaptable to all new sorts of things.”

One of those things was swimming. When his swimming teacher Shane Dufty heard the little boy had become unwell, he offered intensive lessons to help in the recovery. Martin recalls he received about two months’ worth of one-on-one sessions free of charge.

The years went by but Martin never forgot Dufty’s generosity. After his Tokyo heroics, he paid his old teacher a visit.

“They’d taught me on the Sunshine Coast but had moved up to Blackwater (west of Rockhampton), so I went with my cousin and my grandparents, we went for a drive up.

“I took all the medals along and they were all pretty stoked to see me. It felt good to see them again. I was always grateful for what they did for me.”

Martin is grateful for his parents as well.

“I’d say I probably learned it from them,” he said of his humility.

“You see all these elite sport stars in the media all getting in trouble and strife and whatever and you think ‘Oh well, it’s pretty good being on the down-low and not having all this media attention all over you’.

“Mum and dad are always helping me to do well. There are times when I’m not feeling real good, feeling a bit down, and it’s always them that pick me back up and get me back on my feet again.”

Duel in the Pool will be held from August 19 – 21 at Bondi Beach and Sydney Olympic Park.

There are four Para-swimmers representing Australia, Martin, Ellie Cole, Matt Levy and Ashleigh McConnell.

You can purchase tickets to Duel in Pool (20-21 August at Sydney Olympic Park) or watch the live stream on 7plus.

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 18 August 2022