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Louise Suavage - My story

Louise Sauvage with Ian Heads

Portrait of Louise.

Now two years since her Olympic and Paralympic victories in Sydney, Louise is still training, still racing and still winning … an elite athlete, Louise's inner strength and total commitment to her chosen career are impressive.

Born with a spinal condition that limited the function in the lower half of her body, Louise says she has never thought of herself as being different or disadvantaged. "I'm just me - the way I am". Throughout her youth if people said she couldn't do something she would be determined to do it.

"I think when you have a disability people are always putting limitations on you, telling you, even in a nice way, what you can't do. My attitude to that has always been: You can't tell me that. I'll show you"

She started swimming at three years to develop water confidence and upper body strength, and by eight years was pretty "serious" about sports. To begin with she got involved in them all: swimming, basketball, track and field - discus, shot put, javelin. Back then, her favourite, and the discipline she was the best at, was the discus.

At nine years of age she was chosen to compete in the Second National Junior Games for the Disabled and was nicknamed "The Joondanna Flash". At ten, she was the youngest athlete to compete at the National Senior Paraplegic Games where she won several events. The following year she continued her winning streak, returning from the National Junior Games in Melbourne with no less than fifteen medals, seven of them gold!

At the same time, Louise underwent twenty-one operations before she was ten and three more serious operations as a teenager. For a couple of years this prevented her from playing sport, which for a "starry eyed champ" was one of the hardest things to cope with. Long periods of hospitalisation were made bearable by visits from family and school friends. Then, adjusting to the reality of life in a wheelchair, she quietly began building a sporting career that was to soar to extraordinary heights, culminating in her success in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Paralympics.

"Never in my years as a wheelchair racer had I experienced anything like the tremendous blast of noise and energy that swept me home to an Olympic gold medal that Sydney evening - Thursday 28 September 2000. And I probably never will again. After more races than I can begin to remember, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I learned that night that a crowd of 110,000 in a great stadium can muster an amazing physicality when it is willing someone to win. Making my challenge with 150 metres to go, out in Lane Three on the brick-red Stadium Australia track, I felt as if I were almost picked up and carried along by the roar of the crowd, the breath of the crowd. They propelled me to the line … to the gold. Only later was I told of how many people had risen to their feet almost as one, clambering on seats, to add their determination to my own in that 800 metres final. I will never forget the feeling that night, the 'rush' that supported my charge in the home straight. It is not easy to put into words ..."

In the book's forward, Dawn Frazer writes: "My links with Louise Sauvage, the world's greatest wheelchair racer, go back a fair way. Louise has a memory of me presenting her with a prize winner's medal at the National Games in Sydney some years ago, when she was an unknown teenager - and so do I. I admired her that first day, and I have admired her ever since … It became increasingly obvious to me as time went by that she was a very special package, mixing high-level ability, grit, intelligence and unbending competitive spirit."

In telling her story, Louise reveals for the first time the battle she fought with illness and injury as she carried the expectations of an entire nation at the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. The diary she kept from that period, throws new light on what it means to be an elite athlete.

As dawn Frazer points out, "Louise has won about everything there is to win … because of what she has achieved, the Aussie flag has flown high and proud in so many places around the world". The stories of Louise's athletic triumphs, on track and road, are told in her book. They include Olympic gold, Paralympic gold, World Championship gold and her attempts to win the Boston Marathon against America's Jean Driscoll. The book tells of the highs and lows, the achievements and controversies surrounding these events.

"In the end Louise Sauvage's story, with its marvellous punch line of Sydney's Games, is an inspiration in any telling. Almost single-handedly she has raised the profile of sport for athletes with a disability to unprecedented levels in Australia. Her achievements as a wheelchair racer on the world stage and her determination to make sure her fellow athletes, and people with a disability generally, get a fair go make her a seminal figure in Australian sport - one who is probably unmatched" [Ian Heads, from the Introduction to Louise Sauvage: My Story].

These days, while still training and competing, Louise is finding time for activities away from sport, such as taking to school groups and public speaking - translating the messages of her life as a professional athlete to the business arena. "I talk about the need for people to set achievable goals, and about getting help and support along the way as they chase after those goals. Its so easy to relate sport back to business."

Aspire Foundation: Recognising future champions

The Louise Sauvage Aspire Foundation, founded in partnership with the Northern Eagles NRL Club, was launched in 2000. The Foundation provides financial help to athletes with a disability, something close to Louise's heart.

"Sport has given me so many opportunities and a lifetime of memories. I know just how difficult it is for junior and developing athletes with a disability to find the financial support to be able to compete and perform well in their chosen sport and the Foundation enables me to give just a little bit back and hopefully contribute in a small way to assisting future Australian Champions. There is no way I could have achieved the sporting success that I have without the financial support of many individuals and organisations" [quote from Press Release Nov 2001].

Book cover with black and white portrait of Louise.

Editor's note

"Louise Sauvage - My Story" is available from bookshops and online at Amazon.com and Aspire Foundation.

Publisher Harper Sports

Related article: Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games - Meet Our Paralympians.

August 2002

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