Australian runner abandoned as a baby now face of competition for athletes with a disability

Alberto Campbell-Staines was orphaned in Jamaica when he was just three months old. After being adopted by an Australian couple, he is now the face of this week's INAS Global Games in Brisbane.

One of Australia’s best track hopes in the INAS Global Games says he wants to emulate the greatest sprinter of all time.

“Honestly, and it’s a bit cliched, but I feel like Usain Bolt when I run, but a smaller version of Usain Bolt,” Alberto Campbell-Staines told SBS News. 

The 26-year-old is the face of the INAS Global Games for athletes with an intellectual impairment, which is being held in his hometown of Brisbane from Saturday.

Alberto Campbell-Staines is the face of the INAS Global Games in Brisbane.
Source: Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

The competition, hosted by the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability, will see more than 1,000 athletes from 48 countries taking part,

Campbell-Staines has been undefeated in the T20 400m in the last seven years in Australia, making him the nation’s number one, and he is ranked in the top 10 in the world. He will also compete in the 800m as well as the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. 

“I hear kids say, ‘Woah, he’s fast because he’s from Jamaica’, but that’s not true actually, I’ve put a lot of hard work into my training to be what I want to be,” he said. 

Road to Australia 

Born prematurely in the Jamaican capital Kingston, Campbell-Staines was abandoned at an orphanage when he was three months old.

He suffered malnutrition as a child.

He would go on to meet Australians Julie-Anne and Paul Staines, who were teaching in a school for the blind and disabled, and the couple would become his adoptive parents. 

Julie-Anne and Paul Staines with Alberto.
Source: Supplied

“When we first met him, as a young six-year-old, he was a very mischievous boy, and since then he’s grown into a very resilient, fine young man,” Mr Staines said. 

“We’re so proud of Alberto, there are not enough words to say how proud.”

Campbell-Staines was diagnosed with an intellectual disability in Australia, but his talent for running was clear from a young age.

“Alberto was in Grade 3 and over the breakfast table we said, ‘Just try to keep up with your friends’,” Mr Staines said.

“We got to the sports day, and he won every single race, and we were, ‘Oh, I think we might have some talent here’.”

Campbell-Staines competes in the T20 classification. A T20 athlete has an IQ score below 75, significant limitations in adaptive behaviour, and an intellectual impairment acquired before the age of 18.

Sprinter Alberto Campbell-Staines hopes to add to his medal tally at the INAS Global Games in Brisbane.
Source: Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

Campbell-Staines was almost refused the right to remain in Australia when he first arrived, with immigration authorities not recognising his adoption in Jamaica.

A five-year legal battle ensued that went all the way to the High Court.

“Jamaica doesn’t have any formal adoption agreement with Australia so it made the process rather complicated,” Mr Staines said. 

"Once we’d reached [the High Court], the judge said, ‘I can clearly see Alberto is your son and you are his parents’. That was one of the best moments of our life.”

“Now it’s very surreal walking through a shopping centre seeing his face on posters. He’s done so much, we couldn’t wish for more from a son.”

Going for gold

Campbell-Staines first represented Australia in 2013 at the INAS World Championships in Prague and was INAS Australian team captain in 2017 in Thailand.

Among his swag of national and international running titles and awards are three World Championship bronze medals.

He has specially dyed his hair green and gold for the INAS Global Games and is hoping his performance will be his ticket to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. 

“It lets me show young athletes you can achieve anything, if you have a disability or not, and be noticed by everyone else and get a bit of respect,” he said.

“To me it means a lot, to be honest, for people like us with intellectual disability, we’re not quite noticed much.” 

“And to be 'the face', it’s like, 'here we are, come and support us at the games, we’ll show you guys what we got, what we’re made out of'.”

SBS is the official media and educational partner of the INAS Global Games 2019 which take place 12-19 October in Brisbane. SBS Sport will be covering the events and SBS Learn has classroom resources for teachers. 

Published 12 October 2019 at 8:56am, updated 12 October 2019 at 7:15pm
By Stefan Armbruster