Australia's largest Paralympic team are sharing their stories with the world

Australia will be represented by its largest-ever team at the Paralympic Games, with 179 athletes in Tokyo. It's an opportunity for some to share the challenges they have overcome on the world stage - and to go for gold.

Ahmed Kelly

Ahmed Kelly is representing Australia. Source: AAP

While Tokyo’s 2021 Olympic Games came to an end earlier this month, for many Australian athletes their journey is only just beginning.

Australia's largest-ever team is in Japan for the Paralympic Games, which get underway on 24 August.

And for those including champion swimmer Ahmed Kelly, they can't wait to compete. 

Kelly is taking part in his third Paralympic Games and representing Australia has extra special significance for him. 

He was born with severely underdeveloped arms and legs and abandoned outside of an orphanage in Baghdad, Iraq. He was found by nuns and later adopted, coming to Australia as a young child. 

Ahmed Kelly in action.
Source: AAP

“I was just very fortunate to come to Australia with my brother Emmanuelle, have the surgery, fall in love with sport, go through school, and now I’m going to the Tokyo Paralympic Games," he told SBS News. 

“Many Paralympians have had to overcome so many different challenges to get to the starting line or behind the blocks, and so on, and I think for us to get there, and the stories everyone will hear, is quite incredible. The sheer determination, the ability to never give up despite having a disability.”

And while making it to Tokyo means half the battle has already been won for Kelly, his sights are still firmly set on a place on the podium, having previously returned without a gold medal.

Australian Paralympians Ryley Batt and Danni Di Toro with chef de mission Kate Mcloughlin.
Source: AAP

Like many others who will compete, Kelly’s story is one of perseverance, determination and triumph. This year’s chef de mission for the Australian Paralympic team Kate McLoughlin said that is exactly why the Games are such a significant event.

“It’s an amazing platform for people with disabilities within Australia, not just in a sporting sense, because it changes the perception of what people with disabilities look like, and are, and how they contribute to communities."

“The Paralympic movement is hugely powerful in this space … not every person with a disability is going to be an elite sportsperson, but it shows able-bodied people around the world what people with disabilities are capable of.”


It's a sentiment echoed by goalball Paralympian Jenny Blow who says the road to this year’s Games has been challenging, the competitors are looking forward to the opportunity to showcase their elite talent to the broader community. 

“We’re taking away that it’s no longer tokenistic, and they’re just chucking someone with a disability on TV to tick that box. No, it’s because society has people with disabilities … we’re not just ticking a box, we do exist,” she said.

'People who look like them' 

This year Australia will be represented by its largest-ever Paralympic team with 179 athletes travelling to Tokyo to compete in 18 of the 22 events. It equals the Australian record for most sports Australia has competed in at a single Games, set during Sydney 2000.

Eighty-four athletes will be making their Paralympic debut.

After the Games were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McLoughlin told SBS that a cancellation of the event would have been a “devastating blow”. 

If not for the athletes themselves, she said, then for the one in five Australians living with a disability who may be watching from home.

“Once every four years we have young kids with disabilities sitting at home and watching people who look like them," she said.

"Usually in mainstream media, we don’t see enough of people with disabilities."

“Australia has 20 per cent of its population with a disability, so to see people just like them doing an amazing thing and representing their countries sends a very powerful message.”

The Tokyo Paralympics runs until 5 September. 

Published 23 August 2021 at 8:14pm
By Mikele Syron