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Summer down under for all abilities

HerCanberra Team

In town for the Summer Down Under Wheelchair Racing series this weekend Canberra’s own Angie Ballard shares her story of embracing sport at a young age and rising to the top of international wheelchair sports.

A world record holder, Glasgow Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Rio Paralympic Games silver and bronze medallist, Angie may never have started her athletic career if it wasn’t for the friendship and support of her primary school PE teacher and her parents.

Angie says that playing sport and joining in with my able-bodied peers at primary school was a challenge.

“My teacher always encouraged me to participate and feel included but I always felt I couldn’t compete with the other kids and I didn’t like being compared to others,” she says. “Playing sport on an uneven grass oval or rocky ground was difficult in a wheelchair. It wasn’t a level playing field for me.”

Fortunately, a level playing field was found at age nine when her teacher encouraged her to attend a Wheelchair Sports NSW Summer Sports Camp.

“The sense of friendship and camaraderie at the camp was a turning point. Spending a whole weekend with kids my own age and supportive volunteers teaching us how to play cricket, archery, table tennis and basketball. My passion for sport grew and I knew it’s what I wanted to do,” explains Angie.

Angie Ballard

Angie Ballard

Angie says it was an experience that changed everything, as it gave her the confidence and ability to pursue wheelchair racing. After the camp, Angie convinced her parents to buy her a racing wheelchair and her athletic career began.

“I remember my first wheelchair race vividly. The exhilarating sense of speed combined with the anticipation of competition and the sounds of my family and friends cheering me on. I just loved being able to move so fast.”

Reflecting on her career there are many highlights, including the many friendships she has made along the way. Attending the Olympic Games in Sydney with the home team and competing and training alongside Louise Sauvage OAM, in Athens in 2000 were significant experiences, Angie says.

“By the Athens Olympics I was over the initial bright lights and crowds of my first Olympics in Sydney, I was at the top of my game and gave every race my all.”

Today her highlights are much closer to home, such as coaching developing junior wheelchair athletes, working with Wheelchair Sports NSW and training for the World Championships in London in July.

“Training hard and competing gives you a real sense of achievement,” says Angie. “A typical week training for me includes six chair sessions and two gym sessions a week, balanced with recovery and coaching young up and coming wheelchair athletes in Homebush, Sydney.”

GIO Summer Down Under 2015 - Canberra track Meet

GIO Summer Down Under 2015 – Canberra track meet

Many of Angies’ trainees, peers and family and friends will be in town for the Summer Down Under International Track Meet this weekend.

“It’s a happy competition to come home to, having the opportunity to show what we’ve got and bring to the track all our hard work and training in front of our biggest fans. The series is also our chance to qualify for the World Championships and get set for Tokyo 2020,” Angie explains.

GIO spokesperson, Surayez Rahman says that the Summer Down Under Series highlights the ability of Australian’s of all abilities to experience the challenges, friendship and sense of achievement that sport can offer.

“We’ve partnered with Wheelchair Sports NSW because of their vision to enrich the lives of people with a disability through participation in sport. Through our sponsorship of the event GIO wants to affect positive change in the disability sports space in the Canberra Community.”

“It’s the first big race meet since the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. The event includes 60 races each evening, ranging from 100 meters to 5000 metres with 40 wheelchair athletes competing including Canberra’s own Angie Ballard and Australian’s Kurt Fearnley, Rich Nicholson, Rheed McCraken and Madi de Rozario.”

The family friendly track meet is a great opportunity for the Canberra community to support Australia’s wheelchair athletes and see the world’s best Paralympic champions compete to break world records.

the essentials

What: GIO Summer Down Under International Track Meet
Where: Australian Institute of Sport, Leverrier Street, Bruce
When: Saturday 21 January at 5.30pm
Cost: This is a free event
More information: wsnsw.org.au/sports/summer-down-under

Images: Supplied

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