Sarah Walsh

Dare to Stare

Sarah Walsh
Dare to Stare

Photo courtesy of The Australian Paralympic Committee

My parents were left with a tough decision when I was born with Fibula Hemimelia, a condition that meant I had only one bone below my knee and a smaller foot. The decision to amputate my leg was so I could have a better quality of life and so I could enjoy what every other kid was doing. Every kid I knew loved playing sport so I tried my heart out at everything. Out of all the sports I tried, athletics was what stuck. There came a time where my wooden leg was limiting my performance. One day that all changed at a routine check-up, when I was surprised with something that would propel me to greater heights and allow me to chase my dreams of becoming a Paralympian. 

During my primary school years, I tried my hand at every sport. I just wanted to have fun and running around with other kids was just that. Netball, Swimming, Dancing and Gymnastics were a few I quite enjoyed. It wasn’t until my Primary School teacher spoke to me, I decided to give Athletics a shot.

At the time I could barely run 100m let alone 200m and could barely pick up a shotput let alone throw it. After some training sessions I quickly reached the State Carnival and won a Gold Medal in the 100m, a feat which would help me fall instantly in love with Athletics.

After 2 years of solid competition, I began to feel sharp pains in the stump of my day leg; a wooden leg with a fixed foot that had no movement in it.  

My mother was worried so she called in to the place where my prosthetics legs were made at the time. She explained how I’d been feeling and was asked what I’d been doing. Mum started to rattle off my accomplishments on the athletics track, clear that I wasn’t just taking it easy on the leg. Mum was told that I shouldn’t even be able to run on the leg and it’s not what they’re designed for. They were basically saying that they should only be getting me from A to B and not winning Gold Medals on. Nothing was going to stop me from doing what I love even if it was painful.

A couple of months later I was going in for a routine check-up. The pain was really beginning to bother me. When I walked in I noticed a prosthetic blade, one I’d seen on TV, one I’d seen a Gold Medallist wear at the Paralympics. To my surprise that blade was waiting for me. I was in total shock but couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I’d never thought as a ten-year-old, I’d be getting a blade.

When I first put the blade on that day all I remember was bouncing around the room on it. There was definitely a lot more spring in it than the old wooden day leg. I instantly felt the shock absorption and the pain in the stump was minute. They told me before we left that day, “whatever the amount of work you put in to that blade the bigger the return you will get.” At my age it was just an expensive toy. This would change.

Not until this point, probably because I was too young, had I ever really thought about a future in Athletics. From this day however, Athletics became a hell of a lot more serious and my love for it blossomed.

My family were overwhelmed by the fact that I’d received the blade. They were pretty new to it as well. It did make them realise that I could take athletics a lot more seriously now. They knew I had the passion but this gave them the confidence that I could make a career out of it.

I wanted to represent Australia, I just didn’t really know what form of Athletics to do it in. I remember watching Beijing in 2008 and realising that’s my dream. I want to compete at a Paralympic Games.

From this moment, every time I saw a sporting event on the TV, I’d tell everyone that’ll be me. I’ll get there eventually.

I was too young for the London games, but Rio I could realistically dream about. Getting the blade made that more of a chance. It gave me the confidence that I could get there. As I got older, I began to understand its capabilities and to trust the process.

The blade became a very useful tool.

In 2014 I was asked to compete at a lead up event to the Commonwealth Games in Long Jump. It wasn’t new to me but the 100m and 200m were my specialties. It was at this event that I jumped a PB and realised that to achieve my dream and become a Paralympian this would be my best chance.

  Photo courtesy of Optus

Photo courtesy of Optus

That dream was achieved when I was selected for Australia at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Competing at the games, as clique as it sounds, was a dream come true. To be there, standing on the runway in front of 1000’s of people, my family in the crowd, was a moment in time I’ll never forget.

It’d been one hell of a journey. To do it with some of my best friends and incredible team mates was amazing. We were just a couple of kids with dreams as we watched the London games at an AIS camp. Now we’re all Paralympians.

It wasn’t distance wise an excellent jump. A couple of weeks prior I was jumping PB’s in our pre camp. 6th was the best I could do with a jump of 4.84m. I rushed through media and post event cool down so I could find my family when I bumped into my coach, Brett Robinson.  

He wanted to speak to me about all the technical things that I’d done right. I’d switched off totally and told him that I didn’t really care what I had jumped but that I’d just competed at the Paralympic Games and became a Paralympian. That was my dream. I’d made it.

Since Rio I have taken it a lot more seriously. I enjoyed my first Paralympics and learnt from it. My quest to stand on the podium at Tokyo 2020 will be more of a job rather than just going along for the ride.

After competing in the World Champs in Doha 2015, I know what’s expected. I’m ready for London. I’m ready to produce the biggest jump I can on the world stage. I’m ranked 4th in the world right now. I want to improve on that ranking. It will lead to medals. I’d love to jump a PB. I believe I’m a big chance to be standing up on the podium as one of the top girls in the world.

On the 15th July, I’ll be ready to take that jump!

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