Awesome Humans 23 Aug
My Journey to the Tokyo Paralympic Games
By Hannah Dodd
My journey to becoming an elite athlete started in Sydney in the year 2000. Like many Australians, the Sydney Paralympics was my first experience with Para sport and, for me, the first time seeing people like myself outside of a hospital setting. I was running up to every athlete with orthotics and going, “we’re the same!”
I was lucky enough to meet one of the Australian team members, Julie Higgins, a few months before the Games; I then watched her win double gold at the Paralympics. I distinctly remember telling my mum as we drove out, “that’ll be me one day,” and being eight years old at the time, she indulged me and said, “of course.”
Little did we know that I would embark on my journey.
I grew up horse- riding, having ridden in the saddle in front of my brothers since I was four months old. I started the local pony club at 4, competing against non-disabled kids throughout my childhood, including at the Sydney Royal, State and National Championships. At 12, the minimum age for Para equestrian, I got classified and started competing, qualifying, and competing at my first nationals the same year. I finished in the top three and was invited into the Australian Squads and my first international trip to the United Kingdom in 2006.
I missed the 2008 Paralympics due to age restrictions and equine flu hitting Australia; I then didn’t make the team for the 2010 World Champs, but I finally got my chance in 2012. I was lucky enough to meet Tori and Anne Mcbeath during my 2010 campaign. They chose to support me through to 2012, including the purchase of my Paralympic horse Waikiwi FE, a.k.a Kiwi, only six weeks before the first Paralympic selection trial. After six months and four trials, we found ourselves as the top-ranked Aussie combination and booked our ticket to London.
We were on our way.
The London 2012 Paralympic games was one of the best and worst experiences of my life, a childhood dream come true. I cried while putting on my uniform for the first time. I was so proud to be a Paralympian. However, Kiwi got an infection on the flight over, and I was hospitalised twice in the lead-up, so I was happy just to make it to the competition ring! However, performing well below our personal best, we finished with both 11th and 12th place - I left London proud but disappointed.
But my journey was just beginning... enter wheelchair basketball.
When people ask me how I ended up in wheelchair basketball, I often have to laugh. Gerry Hewson recruited me, a former Australian coach, after my parents met him in a casino. After London, I had no horse and figured why not? I had my rookie season in the WNWBL 2013 and was asked to join the Australian Gliders the following year. I missed making the 2014 Worlds teams for both sports and with the Gliders not qualifying for Rio 2016, I looked towards Tokyo 2020. I made the team for the 2018 Worlds in Hamburg, and then the squad was sent to the Paralympic qualifiers at the end 2019 where we qualified for the Tokyo 2020 (now 2021) games. With less than 150 days to go I am overwhelmed at the opportunity to go to my second Paralympics in a second sport.
That’s the journey so far, it’s had its highs and its lows and certainly some unexpected twists that I didn’t see coming, but, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The journey to ensure the Paralympics is given equitable representation as the Olympics has been an important one. Make sure you follow along and support the #Tokyo2020 Paralympics, https://www.paralympic.org.au/