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January 2000

Meet our Paralympians

By Margaret McDonald, Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee.

Photo's courtesy of Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee.
Photographer: Jacqui Henshaw.

Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games

Our athletes are training hard in the lead up to the Paralympic Games (18 - 29 October 2000), where they will be competing before a home crowd.

Here are a few of their stories, achievements and aspirations as they prepare for the big event.

Donna Ritchie.

Wheelchair basketball

Donna is a two-time Paralympian having represented Australia at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.  She was Vice-captain of the Australian wheelchair basketball team in Barcelona and named Captain of the women's wheelchair basketball team for Atlanta.

She met her future husband, leading Dutch wheelchair player Koen Jansens, on the last night of the Atlanta Games at a post-Closing Ceremony party. He moved to Sydney to train and live with Donna and they married on 23 December, 1999.

Donna broke her spine when she was 23 years old when she accidentally fell off the sandstone wall at Manly Beach, Sydney. She has a sister and brother, and her father - Ray Ritchie - is a former Australian and Manly Sea Eagles rugby league player.

Hamish McDonald.

Athletics field events - throwning

Hamish turned 18 on the day he left Australia for his first Paralympic Games (Barcelona 1992).  He was one of only three Northern Territory athletes in the '92 team and there were only four from the NT in the '96 Atlanta team.

Hamish joined Olympians Daniel Kowalski (swimmer) and Kate Slater (rowing) on a UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) tour of refugee camps on the Thailand-Cambodia border in October 1998 -- he feels very strongly for displaced people.

Hamish set a World Record in shot-put for his disability class on his way to a gold medal in Atlanta. He has three brothers -- one a carpenter and one a pastry cook - and hopes they'll all be in the stands to cheer him on in Sydney.

Brendan Burkett.

Swimming

Brendan was co-captain of the whole Australian team in Atlanta.  Sydney will be his fourth Paralympics... he has won a medal of each colour in each previous Games in the 50m freestyle (silver in the Seoul 1988; bronze in Barcelona in 92 and gold in Atlanta in 96).

Brendan has has a degree in biomechanics engineering, and has worked with the Australian Wallabies at their training camp at Calounda, Sunshine Coast (about 5km from his home).  He's helping them in their scrummaging and line-out jumping to get the most use from their legs.

Brendan has two kids and trains with Ironmen and women like Michael King and Linda Halfwig up at Sunshine Coast.  His left leg was badly injured in a motorbike accident just before Christmas 1985) - his leg was amputated on New Year's Eve.

Neil Fuller.

Athletics

Neil is a well-known personality in his home state of South Australia. His dream is to break 11 seconds for the 100m for his disability class, a goal he's been striving to achieve for some time.  He won four golds at the 1998 World Championships in Birmingham, UK, and has been the anchor of the 4x100m relay (they won gold and World Record in Atlanta).

Neil is married and has just had his first child.  He broke his leg badly during a soccer game when he was 18.... complications set in and the leg had to be amputated.

David Hall.

Wheelchair tennis

David held the No.1 men's world ranking for the majority of the four years between October 1995 and October 1999 before dropping to No.3 at the US Open last year (99). His chair cracked and broke during the quarter-finals forcing him to forfeit his match as it could not be repaired in time. But he wants the No.1 ranking back and is determined to get it leading into the Paralympics in October. David shares something in common with Pat Rafter ... David too won the US Open back-to-back in 1997 and 1998 just like Rafter.  He also spends most of the year overseas on the world wheelchair tennis circuit.

Tennis only became a Paralympic sport in Barcelona in 1992. Four years later David became the first Australian player to win a Paralympic medal in the sport with his silver in the men's doubles and a bronze in the men's singles in Atlanta.

David lost both legs in a car accident when a car hit him while he was walking to a friend's house.

Sandy Blythe.

Wheelchair basketball

Sandy was an excellent AFL (Aussie Rules) player in his day before a car accident ... he had trialled with St Kilda and was  lying in hospital after the accident when a phone call came through from Geelong coaching management wanting Sandy to trial with them as well ... Captain of the men's wheelchair basketball team in Atlanta - Sydney will be his Fourth Paralympics.

 

Troy Sachs.

Wheelchair basketball

Troy is a very passionate and aggressive player... sometimes called "the Michael Jordan of the wheelchair game" because of his freakish talent.  He plays professional wheelchair basketball in the USA each American season (Dec-April) for the Dallas Mavericks, and scored 42 points in Australia's gold medal win over Great Britain (78-63) in Atlanta.

That 42 points is an individual World Record for BOTH Paralympic and Olympic basketball competition. Not even a member of the USA's Dream Time in able-bodied basketball has shot higher.

Priya Cooper.

Swimming

Also from Western Australia along with Louise Sauvage, the pair have re-located to Sydney in the lead-up to the Paralympic Games, but are proud Sand Gropers.  Between them in Atlanta they won NINE gold medals (Priya five, Louise four). The entire Russian team of 58 athletes won nine medals.

A little known fact is that Priya has ONE MORE Paralympic gold medal than Louise ... Priya has eight and Louise seven as they both competed at the 92 Barcelona and 96 Atlanta Paralympics.

Priya underwent surgery in November last year (99) on a troublesome left shoulder injury, which had been preventing her from training to her full potential. She realises she has her work cut out for her to get into the Australian Paralympic team but she is also fiercely determined as she won five golds in Atlanta (four individual and one relay) and set three world records.

Louise Sauvage.

Athletics

Undisputed track and road wheelchair champion ... Louise currently holds FIVE world records - three on the track (200m, 1500m, 5,000m) and two relays (4x100m, 4x400m).  She has seven Paralympic golds and eleven World Championship golds, and has won the prestigious Boston Marathon road race (42.6km) three times in a row - 1997, 98 and 99.

Louise became the first athlete with a disability to be awarded one of the most prestigious sports awards in the able-bodied world with her 1999 Female Athlete of the Year triumph in November last year, presented at the Confederation of Australian Sport's awards. The two other finalists were Olympic swimmer Susie O'Neill and champion golfer Karrie Webb.

Louise had been nominated for the award on four occasions but finally "broke through" in 1999. She has used a chair since a young girl due to a spinal chord birth complaint.

Sue-Ellen Lovett.

Equestrian

Sue-Ellen's eyesight has been gradually deteriorating since she was diagnosed with an hereditary disease as a teenager.  Her mother, Mary, has the same condition and is now totally blind. Sue-Ellen has only three per cent vision in one eye and two per cent in the other.  She still manages to compete equally with able-bodied riders and at the Royal Easter Show in 1999 came 3rd and 4th in the two dressage events.... she was the only competitor with a disability.

Equestrian is only dressage in the Paralympic Games (no three-day event) and only introduced as a Paralympic sport in Atlanta.. Australia did not medal and Sue-Ellen partly blames this to the poor quality of horses presented to the athletes - she intends to make amends in Sydney.  She was a member of the Australian team that won the bronze medal for the team event at the 1999 World Disabled Riding Championship in Denmark last July.

Sue-Ellen has completed two long-distance rides (37 days over 1400km from Melbourne to Sydney in 1997 and 43 days over 1600km from Brisbane to Sydney in 1999).  Both rides were to raise funds and awareness for the Sydney Paralympic Games.

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