Gold medal winning athlete, Jason Hooper was born with Aperts Syndrome, which affects his hands and feet, but he doesn’t let that stop him living his life to the fullest and achieving his goals. At 23, Jason saw a sporting show about a disabled athlete, and that was it! It inspired him to join his local track team, and the rest was history.
“I was playing soccer as well, putting in the hard yards during training and sitting on reserves bench game day. So, after watching a story on the TV about a girl enjoying being a disabled track athlete, I thought “Bingo!” I’ll give that a go!”
Jason’s career quickly escalated and in 1995, he went to the New Zealand Nationals and won silver in the 100m and 200m track and gold in the 400m, 800m and 1500m competitions.
By 1999, Jason was struggling with bad ankle injuries. He was given two choices, have an operation on your ankles that may not fix things, or retire. He chose neither option. After learning to swim at quite a late age, he fell in love with the water and found any injuries healed faster and didn’t bother him as much when he was in the pool.
“I was shattered [at the news], and then a friend said to me “Jas you’ve learnt how to swim, so hey, retire from the track and get into the pool!” So in 2000 I started a new chapter.”
Initially, Jason only entered the 25m and 50m freestyle and breaststroke competitions, but as on the track, he took to the long distance races more. He soon was swimming in 100m-800m breaststroke and freestyle competitions.
Jason took to the pool like…well, a duck to water, and he soon became a state, national and Trans-Tasman champion. In 2009, he competed in his biggest swim-meet in his career, the World Masters Games in Sydney. He won silver, but being the self-proclaimed perfectionist he is, he wasn’t stoked with that.
“Game plans don’t always work in sport, and the moment got the better of me. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’ve got to give it 100per cent. I continued swimming, but in May 2016 I decided 2016 was going to be my last [year of competing].”
As fate would have it, three days after retiring Jason got an email asking him if he’d like to compete at the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand. Jason wasn’t sure what to do.
“I had a chat with some mates and asked them for their thoughts. They all said the same thing “How do you feel Jas?” “If you think you can do it, go for it!”.”
There wasn’t an 800m freestyle competition for people with disability, but Jason got back into training and entered the 50m breaststroke and 200m and 400m freestyle. Jason’s fierce competitive nature and wanting to be the best paid off. He returned to Australia the 50m Breaststroke and Freestyle World Champion.
Surely, that was it for Jason? He was now retired. But, he couldn’t sit still and not compete in anything ever again. He knew exactly what he was going to do; he always loved boxing, in the early 90s Jason used to train at the Newtown Police Boys club with boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, who trained the likes of boxers Jeff Fenech, Eddy Younan and Justin Roswell.
Once he started, he was hooked. Even at 54 years old, Jason spends his time travelling from Mount Druitt to Carlton for regular boxing training and loves every minute of it. His trainer, Ali, is a huge encouragement and form of support for Jason.
“Ali is like my big brother. He’s a great bloke with a heart of gold.”
His ultimate goal is to represent his gym, Hardcore Gym, in Masters Boxing and has been working towards competing in the 2021 title fights held on the Gold Coast.
Jason’s advice for anyone with a disability or anyone who wants to become a professional athlete is…just go for it!
“It’s like riding a roller coaster you’ll have highs and lows but hey that’s life! I don’t know if I’m a role model for people with a disability when it comes to training and competing, but I give it my best shot specially with training. If you give your training 100 per cent then when it’s time to compete you’ll be ready.”