It’s fitting that the patron of this year’s International Day of People with Disability is two-time Commonwealth Games champion Kurt Fearnley.
Earlier this year, Fearnley lent his name to the Kurt Fearnley Scholarships, delivered by Commonwealth Games Australia in conjunction with the Carbine Club of NSW and the New South Wales Institute of Sport. The scholarships support five talented NSW para-athletes who currently receive limited support from other sources and show outstanding potential for future success in the Commonwealth Games para-sport events.
And already the class of 2019 have showed they have the potential to become future stars at both Commonwealth and Paralympic Games.
The first intake included swimmer Jasmine Greenwood who at just fourteen won an Australian title, and then took bronze in the S10 butterfly at the 2019 World Para-Swimming Championships in London and collected six other top eight placings at the para worlds.
Fifteen-year-old Ricky Betar medalled in five events at the national titles before also winning a bronze at the Para-Swimming worlds in the 4x100m freestyle S14 and he also set world records in the S14 50m and 100m freestyle events.
Wheelchair racer Luke Bailey made his Australian representative debut at the recent World Para-Athletics Championships in Dubai, where he finished 7th in the T54 100m and 8th in the 4x100m relay and he also won the Australian open T54 200m crown in March.
Fellow wheelchair sprinter Aimee Fisher also won the open T54 200m at the Australian titles along with a bronze in the 100m and Alissa Jordaan finished 8th in the ambulant long jump and 11th in the ambulant 100m at the national titles.
As 2019 patron of International Day of People with Disability, Fearnley hopes to encourage Australians to take concrete action, to help make change in the lives of people with disability.
“What I most want to achieve as this years’ patron is for people to use International Day of People with Disability as a launching pad for further action,” he said.
“People with disability are entitled to the same respect, independence and choice as others. We need to talk honestly about the barriers in society that prevent this and work together to break them down.”
These sentiments are lived and breathed by the Commonwealth Games movement, where the para-sport programme is fully integrated. This means that Fearnley’s win in the T54 marathon on the Gold Coast is valued and celebrated the same as Michael Shelley’s able-bodied marathon win.
Events for Athletes with a Disability were first included on the Commonwealth Games programme as an exhibition sport at the Victoria 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada. However, it was at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester where para-athletes were fully integrated into national teams, making them the first fully inclusive international multi-sport Games.
The integrated para-sport program for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games was the most extensive in Commonwealth Games history 38 medal events across seven sports.
With the inclusion of Para Table Tennis, the Birmingham 2022 Games will have more para sports on the programme at a Commonwealth Games than ever before, with eight para sports – athletics, swimming, cycling, basketball, lawn bowls, triathlon, table tennis and powerlifting – confirmed for 2022.
Applications for the 2020 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship closed recently and will be announced in early 2020.