Ausnew Home Care | Female athletes with higher support needs devastate

Female athletes with higher support needs devastated as events are excluded from Paralympic schedule

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When Amy Tobin found frame running, her Paralympian dreams were finally within reach. 

The 27-year-old has used a wheelchair all her life but two years ago she ran for the first time.

"I didn't think it was humanly possible, not being able to really walk ... running was kind of out of the question," Tobin, who has cerebral palsy, said.

Racerunning, or frame running as it is known internationally, is a sport popular for people with cerebral palsy and other high-support needs.

Tobin, the leading frame runner in the country, had been preparing to represent Australia at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games where the event was due to make its debut.

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When Tobin isn't in her racerunner for training and competition, she uses an electric wheelchair.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

But in a major blow to racerunners across the world, the event was not added to the Paralympics schedule.

"It was absolutely devastating ... training six days a week and then to be told basically 'you're too disabled'," she said.

An International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesperson said restrictions on the number of events meant several athletic disciplines, including frame running, were excluded from the schedule.

"The total number of medal events, as well as the total number of athletes competing in the Games, is fixed in agreement with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the Paris 2024 organising committee," the spokesperson said.

"This meant that it was ultimately unable to include additional medal events, such as frame running, in its final medal event program.

"We fully sympathise with the frame running athlete community and understand their disappointment."

A wider issue

More than 100 additional medals will be on offer in sports including triathlon, badminton and taekwondo, but the Paris Paralympics will have three fewer athletic events than the Tokyo Paralympics.

Former track Paralympian and bronze medallist Rosemary Little said female athletes with higher needs, like her, had no option to compete on the track under the Paris 2024 schedule.

"It's quite devastating and the IPC don't seem to understand the importance of having races for people with higher support needs," Little said.

woman in wheelchair
Rosemary Little was looking forward to returning to the track after a tumour ended her T34 career.(Supplied: Rosemary Little)

Little competed in the T34 track event at the Rio 2016 and London 2012 Paralympic Games, but medical specialists found a 20-centimetre tumour near her cervical spine in 2017, which impacted her ability.

Little took part in the shot put event at Tokyo 2020 but was planning to return to the track when it was announced wheelchair racing, T33, would be introduced for women at the Paris 2024 Games.

But the sport's exclusion from the schedule means her past two years of training will go to waste.

"You can't just keep training for nothing; so, if there's no race, where's the point?" she said.

The nation's future athletes

A record number of medal events and female participation is expected at the 2024 games, but the exclusion of disciplines like frame running removes the finish line for the next generation.

people in race runners
Tobin leads training sessions for RaceRunners on the Gold Coast and Brisbane.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

Tobin has spent the past two and a half years helping more than 100 people across the country train for frame running through her charity, Now I can Run.

Eleven-year-old Jackson Kirkham uses his wheelchair and a frame for mobility but was able to run for the first time with his race runner.

"It makes me feel like I can run for my freedom," Jackson said.

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Jackson Kirkham says frame running gives him a sense of freedom.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Meg Bolton)

Impacts beyond the arena

Two-time Paralympic medallist and academic Bridie Kean said the Paralympics not only had a profound impact on the athletes but society as a whole.

"It highlights what people with a disability can do and then what it does is it starts conversations and starts thoughts about what that means beyond the sporting arena," Dr Kean said.

Dr Kean won a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympics and a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, as part of the Australian wheelchair basketball team.

"It's such an honour to represent your country at the highest level," she said.

"But being a Paralympic athlete for me has also meant so much more — it's given me a voice in conversations I don't think I would have had and enabled me to raise issues when there are inequities for people with a disability."


Source: ABC

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