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  • Paul Fink

Dare to Dream?

Obviously I am a sports nut and love playing and watching sports. Granted, I am watching less TV after my stroke because I have two young kids, and fatigue is an issue - but I still enjoy footy and Socceroos matches, test cricket and Olympic and Paralympics games.

I played only amateur sport in my life, and I was nowhere near professional. I went to the Maccabiah Games in 2005 in a manager role, and I love the social aspect - meeting like-minded people, making new friends, competing etc but after my stroke, and watching the Paralympics and the Commonwealth games this year, I thought - or dreamed - ‘what about me’? I have a disability, I love sports and I am relatively fit, so it is possible compete the Paralympics one-day? I thought very unlikely but never know, therefore I said to myself, ‘can’t hurt to investigate’. Maybe a long-term goal.

So this year I was searching for a suitable sport where I could to compete, challenging myself and having fun. I contacted the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) contacts for cycling and running a few months ago, but my search was halted by minor injury in my foot (hopefully resolved now). At the same time I received a generic email from APC. The title - ‘Australia's 2018 Para-sport Talent Search is here!’’.

"The Para-sport Talent Search is an initiative of the Australian Paralympic Committee. Its main goal is to identify or transition people who have display the athletic potential to one day make it to Paralympic level competition.

Know someone with a disability who’s not sure what Para-sport options are available to them. If this is the case, feel free to forward this information onto them.

We are conducting testing sessions throughout the country to evaluate which Para-sports individuals may be eligible for, in addition to which Para-sports might be best suited depending on the type and level of impairment, history in sport and a range of other considerations."

I thought, you beauty! This is perfect! Although I was aware that the talent search was geared for younger people, but I registered anyway, and I last week, I traveled to Tullamarine (Essendon FC training ground - The Hangar) to take part the program.

The day started with a general movement and measurement testing in the morning including Sitting Reach, Standing Long Jump, Sprint Test, Medicine Ball Chest Pass, Medicine Ball Single Arm Throw, Single Leg Lunge, etc. Surprisingly for me, I completed almost every test - including the infamous running ‘beep test’.

The beep test is an measure of your aerobic capacity, used by sporting organisations around the world and it involves running continuously between two points that are 20 meters apart before a timed beep. Athletes must continue running back and forth, each time reaching the line before the next beep. Once one can no longer run, the test is over and the number of laps is recorded. As the test continues, the time between beeps gets shorter

The test starts at level 7 and the vast majority of people will be done before they reach level 13 because a good score is 9-11. The best top AFL midfielders scored over 14 or more, but unfortunately I ran 20 meters only (!!) because I couldn’t keep up with the beeps, however, I was pleased.

I technically started running six months ago, and re-learning to run is a very challenging thing for me, so I was happy to even participated anyway. The organiser sheepishly said ‘You very unlikely to make sprint events’...I smiled, and I agreed :).

At the afternoon session involved sport-specific testing and I tried rowing (with the rowing machine), cycling (stationary exercise bike) badminton and table tennis.

  • Badminton was a total disaster - I was hopeless. Definitely more challenging because I never played badminton pre-stroke and I was using my non-dominant arm. Nonetheless it was fun.

  • Table tennis was fun, using my left hand but I have not much ability - I am a realist.

  • Rowing was very good because I used my two hands to hold the machine; And

  • Cycling was also good pretty because my legs are (relatively) strong. I have a modified trike - My balance issues means I can’t ride a normal bike yet - but one-classification [and the Paralympic games] is with trikes so it is possible to compete with a trike.

The testing results from the day will play a role in determining an athletes’ potential and which Para sports may be best suited, so I will await the results and I will see. Fingers crossed!

After the testing was done, I approached a man because I was intrigued about his ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), but I unknowingly I was talking with amazing Paralympic athlete - Marty Jackson. He shared tips and advice about his AFO and ideas for my mobility, also and after talking to him - and comparing ‘war’ stories - I found out he won a silver medal at the Commonwealth games this year for shot put. Additionally he will compete at the Australian Para Ice Hockey at Finland this month.. He is a bloody legend!

I met lot of inspiring people and it was a enjoyable, productive and satisfying day at Tullamarine. I am not expecting much with my results, but I am very happy and thankful for Australian Paralympic Committee for the opportunity.


Marty Jackson

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