Since coming back from your third Paralympic Games in Rio, what challenges have you had compared to your previous two Games campaigns?
Rio was always going to be my last Paralympic campaign, so in coming back home, there was quite a level of uncertainty with how I’d deal with having an ‘extended break’ from my sport. From other competitions I’d arrive home with the next competition to look forward to, but post-Rio I had very little on my agenda except for searching for a new career! I very much felt like I was closing a chapter of my life and moving on to the next.
As a three-time Paralympian you have witnessed Paralympic sport chance over 12 years. Can you tell us what has changed most?
A lot has changed! Including some horrific hairstyles and lycra outfits! I guess the most exciting change has been that more people are interested in Para-sport. More people can name Paralympians they’ve seen on TV, and more people actually know a thing or two about Para-sport and events. For me London 2012 was a games that really broke ground with how the global media put Para-sport out there and you could feel that not only during the Games but also upon returning home.
You are now embarking on a new career, tell us about that?
I am indeed. I wish I could say it was something really exciting like an old warehouse conversion turned barber shop, or a fleet of food trucks that take Eftpos but it’s in steel. Last year I was lucky enough to be a part of ‘Change the Game’ program that saw Bluescope Steel team up with the Australian Institute of Sport, and it was through the networks of that program that I was offered an opportunity with BlueScope Steel following the Games. I’m excited to have an opportunity with a large corporation where I have the time and motivation to commit to pushing myself in a new area of my life. Every job I’ve had before had to come second to meet my training commitments, so it’s quite a change for me.
How important is it for the Australian community to show their support to ensure Para-athletes can compete and train at the same level as their able-bodied peers?
Without support from the community we wouldn’t be able to train full time the way we do and that’s a really important ability to have with the way Para-sport is heading. It’s a privilege to be able to train full time as an athlete, and as Australians we’re lucky enough to have a country who loves sport. These days it’s not just our able-bodied counterparts we’re comparing ourselves to, it’s our competitors we need to keep a close eye on. Many of them train as professional athletes, which means we need support from across the country to ensure we keep our competitive edge.
Do you think we are witnessing more inclusion and less stigmatism around disability within the wider Australian community?
Absolutely. I think the general population has a better understanding of what we are actually capable of doing. In many circumstances the focus is not as much on what we can’t do but rather on what we can. I do, however, stand by the fact that I simply cannot unstack the dishwasher. This shift on focus has put on positive spin on inclusion and communities are slowly breaking apart the stigmatism and fear many had towards participation outside of what was ‘the norm’. We’ve got a long way to go yet, but we’re certainly in a better place. Over the next 10 years no doubt we’ll see some better ‘grass roots’ pathways established at community level in Para-sport.
If you could pick a moment, could you share with us a funny moment in Rio with the Australian Paralympic Team?
At the expense of not quite knowing my audience I’ll keep it clean! We shared many funny moments over the Games period, and I have some very fond memories. Perhaps the first that comes to mind is walking into my room to see it had been trashed, to soon realise it hadn’t been trashed but it wasn’t even my room. I’d walked out of the lift at the wrong level and straight into the wrong apartment. I should have realised when half the wheelchair basketball team were sitting on the couch when I walked in. I guess I should also note the basketballers hadn’t had their room trashed either… They’d simply taken a more relaxed approach to their style of living.