Reading , watching or hearing about people who overcome adversity always makes us feel good. We love to know that hard work pays off, that obstacles and challenges can be met and conquered, that a dark cloud has a silver lining and that when all seems lost, dreams and hopes become a reality.
This past week I was fortunate enough to be able to interview some Australian athletes who will soon be competing in the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics. I wanted to know a little more about their childhood and those that inspired them to overcome life’s challenges and excel in their chosen sports.
Christian Williams is working to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in the Archery team. Despite having a serious heart condition, Christian has learnt to make changes to his goals and aspirations in order to find a sport that allows him to safely compete. In doing so he has showed enormous dedication as well as a drive and persistence that he is keen to demonstrate to other young people hoping to follow their dreams.
Hannah MacDougall is an inspiring athlete who achieved bronze medals in the 2004 Athens Paralympics and is now aiming for the 2012 Paralympics in cycling. Growing up with only one leg, Hannah was forced to overcome many setbacks and challenges. She spent 13 years competing as a swimmer and recently switched to cycling. By surrounding herself with positive and supportive people however, Hannah has used the uniqueness of her circumstance to help her achieve many great things.
Here is part of my interview with these inspiring athletes.
What sort of role did your parents play in your sporting endeavours? Were they concerned that your physical issues would result in disappointment to you should you not be able to compete as others could?
Hannah: I was extremely blessed how my parents managed to get that balance right between being supportive and encouraging me to pursue my dreams. I never felt like I was pushed into anything, all my sporting goals and pathways have been my own decision. However, having one leg naturally meant that sometimes I couldn’t keep up with all my school mates in different events. Sometimes this meant coming home from a sports carnival and bawling my eyes out on mum’s shoulder because I had come last in every single event. Mum always managed to turn my frame of mind around though – we talked about what had happened, what I had learnt from the race and what I could do better next time. I am a strong believer in that through our ‘failures’ we become stronger.
Christian: My parents always did the best they could to support my sporting career and I will always be grateful for a ride home from training on a school night and warm dinners waiting in the oven. There is nothing better than playing in front of your friends and family, having them behind you 100% makes a huge difference to any athlete. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the support of my step-dad, he inspires me every day to be the best I can be. My family, like any other, is always worried about me but are supportive at the same time. To my sisters, I’m just an annoying older brother, when we’re playing around in the backyard I have no limitations and that’s the way it should be.
Who were the main role models for you growing up?
Hannah: My parents were definitely great role models and taught me many important life lessons. My first ever coach and mentor, Donnie Elgin, also was a fantastic role model. A piece of advice that I received from Donnie that I still use to this day included:
“If you want something badly enough, then get off your butt and do something about it.”
Christian: Lance Armstrong for his ability to overcome cancer, become the best athlete in world and change millions of lives, he is what I inspire to be. Ali for changing the way people view athlete’s forever. Michael Jordan because I always wanted to be tall and dunk a basketball. And the most important my Baka (Croatian for grandmother) for being the most supportive and loving person in the world. In all my travels around the world, nothing comes close to my Baka’s chicken noodle soup
Is there anyone now for whom you still use as inspiration and why?
Hannah: Everyday I find inspiration, whether it be when I am riding along the beach, talking to my friends and parents, having a chat with Donnie, or finding inspiration within myself. Inspiration can come from a number of sources. Sometimes we lead such busy lives that we can miss inspirational sources but if we stop for a moment and listen, inspiration will always be forthcoming.
Christian: I’m inspired by my fellow athletes at the Victorian Institute of Sport who are the best in the world at what they do. To me the most inspirational people in the world are young people living with heart disease and other serious conditions that never give up and smile all day long. I want to be better for them, to lead by example and prove that anything is possible 🙂
I love the attitudes of these athletes and I am sure they will continue to inspire many young kids. Apart from the lessons of hard work and dedication, we can also learn from these athletes that sometimes life throws you things that threaten to upset and derail your hopes and dreams. Rather than give up, these athletes have shown that sometimes it just means moving on to a new sport, a new idea or a new path in order to reach your goals of success and self fulfillment. I love the message this sends to our young able and not so able bodied kids today and hope that you too can share these stories with your own children.
And as a parent with a child with a disability, it is important for us and for them to be reminded that they need not be defined by their disability, but rather it can be used as motivation to enable them to experience great success and to follow their passions.
Did your parents or anyone else encourage you to achieve things when others said it wasn’t possible?
This is not a sponsored post but if you would like to read more about these athletes, or even have them come and speak at your child’s school (NSW and Victoria only) then please have a look at the website www.thatdairysnack.com.au