Going to your first Paralympics at just 15 years of age in swimming is both a privilege and a responsibility that most don’t have thrust onto them at such a young age. It was an experience that saw Amanda Reid better set for the future after her early exposure to top-tier competition at London 2012.
“I think being 15 at your first Games you really don’t know what to expect,” said Reid. “Being so young and having multiple disabilities as well, it was hard… not understanding the calibre of it. I sort of messed around a bit and didn’t know quite what to do, being so young. The next Games I was ready to roll.”
Reid has been blazing a trail in cycling since picking up the bike again in 2015. She returned to a childhood sport after an acrimonious break from swimming with Reid feeling that she was bullied out of the squad.
“I don’t really talk to people in swimming anymore,” said Reid, “for me it was very hard when I crossed over and some things happened. I just left, did a clean break and it was easier.
“People don’t realise when they say those nasty words how it affects the person. They don’t think that far ahead and it’s sad that people still bully and are still racist. You’ve got to learn to live with it, it’s hard to say that, but having a good support network is the best possibility that I had."
The decision to return to the bike was one made almost on a whim, but began an intensive process to make it back to the Paralympics, this time in a different sport.
“I found my old cycling jersey when I was doing a clear-out and I thought, let’s give this a go again,” said Reid. “That was how it all started back in 2015 to get back on the bike.”
“I was lucky enough to have a good support network around me and I’ve had the same coach since the start. I knew I had to work hard to make the Games, there was six months there that I had to make the Games.
“I was just training, training, training and then I ended up making the team. It was great, but I put a lot of training in to get there.”
The subsequent silver medal at the Rio Games in the C1-3 500m event was just reward for her intensive effort, but lit the fire in her belly for a return to take gold. She's been the world champion five times across the 500m and the pursuit since and has her eyes on Tokyo 2021.
Reid is a proud Guringai and Wamba Wamba woman, and counts her representation of her people right next to her identity as an Australian athlete.
“To represent your country, and for me, being Aboriginal as well to represent my people and culture is an amazing opportunity as well,” said Reid. “There aren’t lots of Aboriginal people that represent Australia at the Olympics or the Paralympics. It’s a great opportunity."
Reid names her heroes and influences as Cathy Freeman, Kurt Fearnley and Louise Sauvage, who partnered with Reid in a mentoring scholarship. While she shied away from describing herself as a role model for others, she did have advice for those in a similar situation to her, an Aboriginal and a para-athlete.
“I live with being Aboriginal every day, so you live with racism and all that stuff,” said Reid. “But you can overcome this, you can have a dream. It doesn’t matter if it’s small, doesn’t matter if it’s big, just keep chipping away at it.”
“I just hope the next generation can follow their dreams and be more inclusive as we go forward. That they have an easier run than some of us paras have had.”
“I think it’s hard with some Aboriginal backgrounds, with some sports they take them out of their communities and put them in metro areas. That doesn’t help at all. You’re taking them away, sometimes away from family, away from community connections. Maybe nurturing them a bit more.”
As a member of the current Australian Cycling Team, Reid is in a very happy spot, receiving good support and with clear communication a bonus.
“The para support network is just amazing. We’re one team and we support each other so well. If you have an issue you can speak to somebody about it and they’re right on top of all that stuff. I love being part of the team.
For all those that have doubted or had negative things to say in the past, a more worldly Reid has the perspective that the best revenge is living well.
“It’s a bit of look at where I am and where you guys are, I’m getting the last laugh,’ said Reid. “In general, I like to win, but everyone that’s happened to me, to overcome and keep pushing is a big motivator.”