With the delay of the COVID-19 enforced Tokyo Paralympic Games to 2021, the Paris Paralympic Games is quickly reaching the forefront of athlete's minds across Australia. For the electric Rhiannon Clarke, bounding Vanessa Low and poised Al Viney, they are each commencing their push to be in Paris when it matters for the 2024 Paralympics. Whilst Clarke, Low and Viney compete across different disciples, their dedication to their sporting craft is equal and their collective advancement of the Paralympic Spirit is powerful.
In Paris, Rhiannon Clarke will be looking for Paralympic redemption. After placing fifth in the T38 100m and seventh in the T38 400m at the Tokyo Games, Clarke is striving to improve on her Paralympic performances in Paris. Clarke's recent success at the World Para Athletics Championships resulting in a T38 400m silver medal and ironically in Paris, suggests this leap is more than likely.
Born with cerebral palsy, Clarke's perfect recipe for success is a case of running really fast whilst holding her form as her condition affects the body's ability to remained controlled and balanced with fatigue late in a sprint. Fatiguing quicker than able-bodied sprinters, Clarke spends a remarkable amount of time on the track and in the gym to ensure her technique is bulletproof come race-day. Mixing time on the track and in the gym with pool and bike sessions, whilst not discounting physio and additional treatment, Clarke is ticking all the boxes.
Through these behaviors all at just 21 years of age, Clarke hopes to bring her best on the global stage to inspire younger athletes and people with disabilities to follow their dreams and capture the hearts and minds of Australia.
As Clarke pushes to earn her first Paralympic medal, no doubt she'll be leaning on the illustrious experience of Vanessa Low. Competing at her first Paralympics in 2012, Low's been getting it done on the big stage for well over a decade. With two Paralympic gold medals and seven World Championship medals to her name, Low has forged a decorated career in the T63 long jump.
A story of true persistence, Low long thought she would never have hit the dizzying achievements of her athletic career now seen in the long jump pit. At just 15, Low was hit by a train after losing her balance on a platform in her birth-country of Germany, losing her left leg above the knee and right leg through the knee.
Many experts doubted Low's chances of ever walking again. Two years after the accidents, Low was defying the doubters as she learnt to walk again using prostheses whilst building all the muscle lost during the recovery period.
Fast forward to the 2016 Rio Paralympics and it was gold draped around Low's neck as she jumped almost 5m to break the T42 long jump world record and take her first Paralympic title. Five years later, Low's efforts were repeated when she bettered her world record on three occasions to jump 5.28m and take the Tokyo Paralympic title.
A fair cry from those who doubted Low would ever walk, let alone run and jump again. It's this reflection of Low's determination that she wishes to project the Paralympic Spirit onto the world.
"I remember stepping off the plane in London at the 2012 Paralympics and seeing an advertisement that read "meet the superhumans" showing some of the best British Paralympians," she said. "I want people to watch me compete in Paris next year and see themselves, their own story, their own adversities, own struggles and own behaviours."
Unlike Clarke and Low, Al Viney does her best work off-land. A promising rower from a young age, Viney thought her dream of competing at the highest level was gone when in 2010 she survived a high-speed car accident caused by a drunk driver.
Causing significant impairments to her left elbow, forearm and hand, it was eight years on from the accident when Viney first considered the opportunity of becoming a Para-athlete.
Viney's talent to the sport of rowing clearly didn't disappear, indicated by her efforts in being a member of the PR3 Mixed Coxed Four at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Finishing an impressive fourth despite limited training in the lead-up due to COVID-19 restrictions, Viney's teammates have set the bar for something even more impressive come next year in Paris.
Building to Paris, Viney has been laying down some serious foundations through the winter to make an impact on next year's European summer.
Four mornings a week, as most of Melbourne is only just awakening, Viney has already been in the boat for an hour. Gliding along the Yarra River below Federation Square towards Docklands, Viney gets her work done in the boat before spending additional time on the bike, running and the dreaded ergo (rowing) machine.
Whilst the commitment to training to seek the ultimate goal in Paris is one thing, Viney's understanding on her ability to inspire the next generation is absolutely paramount.
"To inspire is such a funny thought sometimes for me", she said. "I get caught on it because I'm just trying to have honest conversations which in turn, I hope allows others to feel seen, safe and welcome in sport and life. I'm always learning, tripping up and adapting as I try to figure this world out myself."
As Viney reflects on her journey thus far, championing courage and character, amidst fierce determination in a space that welcomes all, is the true reflection of the Paralympic Spirit.