Why You Can’t Be Disabled and an Athlete

When you see someone who is a wheelchair user, what occupations come to mind? Perhaps student, advocate, or even volunteer. But what about ‘athlete’?

When people first get to know me this is something that often catches them off guard. Being a wheelchair user, specifically a power wheelchair user in my case, and being an athlete is not a combination that people deem possible. But that is exactly what I am!

I was born with a condition called Nemaline Myopathy, which basically means I have weak muscles and have been driving a power wheelchair since I was four! For my whole childhood and teenage years, I too never thought labelling myself as an athlete was ever something that was possible or achievable. And it also wasn’t something that I strived for. But that soon changed when I met a fellow powerchair athlete around three years ago.

At an event for young people with neuromuscular conditions I met a young person who started explaining powerchair sports to me. She described to me the different sports that she played, and how I should give it a go. I dismissed her, justifying that it wasn’t for me and I wasn’t the ‘sporty type’. A few weeks later, however, I thought ‘what have I got to lose by trying it out?’.

Once I tried the various powerchair sports, I was hooked! Here was a place where I could make friends who had similar life experiences to me and most importantly, where I could unleash my competitive side! I loved, and continue to love, challenging myself to improve my skills and game play, while helping out the team and increasing individual and group success.

Making an Australian team has been a personal goal of mine and it’s great to see that my hard work and determination is paying off!

Fast forward a few years and I now play the three sports of power football/soccer, power hockey and rugby league – all of which are specifically modified to be played by disabled athletes who use power wheelchairs for mobility. I’ve been selected to compete in five different national competitions and teams, including the Perth Glory Power Football team, and have won numerous awards. Just this year, at a local level, I was awarded WA’s best and fairest, WA’s best power football player, and WA’s joint best power hockey player! Nationally, I won WA’s best and fairest, as well as being named one of the top 6 neuromuscular powerchair athletes in the country. Excitingly, I have also been selected to play for Australia!

A few months ago I was asked to Vice Captain the U21 Australian Powerchair Football Team, otherwise known as the U21 Poweroos. Making an Australian team has been a personal goal of mine and it’s great to see that my hard work and determination is paying off! As part of this, I’ll be competing in the Asia-Pacific-Oceania cup against some of the best powerchair athletes from across the region.

So if you think that a power wheelchair user or someone with a disability can’t be an athlete, think again! Or if you are a power wheelchair user and believe that you could never play sport, think again!

Playing sport has many physical and mental health benefits so I would highly recommend getting involved in a sport that is suited to you and your abilities!