The rising wheelchair racing star is one of four recipients of the 2021/22 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship which will help support the young Para-athlete towards qualifying for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Sarah Clifton-Bligh is on a journey to join the distinguished list of Australian wheelchair racing stars, a journey that began when she took the reins of the famous ‘blue chair’ of New South Wales Para-sport.
“We went to get Sarah classified, and while we were there, there was somebody else there who was getting classified who had an athletics racing chair,” Meredith, Sarah’s mother said.
“And Sarah said, ‘we are not leaving until we find out how I can get one of those’.”
The experience led Sarah and her family to enquire with Wheelchair Sports New South Wales who had a lone chair available, a chair with a blue chassis.
“A chair that had been used by literally everyone,” Sarah said.
She isn’t joking.
The ‘blue chair’ is famous in the New South Wales system as being the racing chair that has been used by Commonwealth Games gold medallists Angela Ballard and Kurt Fearnley AO, when they began their own sporting journeys.
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Sarah added her name to the list while she and her family worked on securing her own chair for competition.
Which has now become a pool of chairs, that the family and wider wheelchair racing community are happy to share to fellow young racers.
“We have our own pool of chairs now, so if anybody grows out of one, there will be another one in somebody’s garage and shed [to share],” Meredith said.
“Sarah is laughing because she has grown out of [multiple] chairs.”
It makes the buying process for a custom-fitted racing seat tricky when the 17-year-old continues to have growth spurts.
“I keep growing… whenever we organise to get a new chair, I just kept growing,” Sarah said.
“I am like a weed.”
While she continues to grow in stature, Sarah’s career continues to grow on the track too.
Part of the growth on the track comes from the encouragement and advice Sarah received from former coach turned competitor Angie Ballard that continues to inspire her racing approach today.
“I think when I was younger, I often focused [too much] on my competitors,” Sarah said.
“So Angie gave me a tip.
“She said to ‘race your own race’ and to focus on your own strategy.
“So even if I don’t win, if I race my own race and can get a PB, then that’s a win [to me].”
The advice and Sarah’s hard work and determination has helped her elevate through the ranks of the New South Wales system to where Sarah is now under the guidance of Para-sport legend and Manchester 2002 silver medallist Louise Sauvage OAM.
“She is a hard taskmaster,” Sarah said laughingly.
“But it is great learning from her.”
Sauvage’s tutelage and guidance has helped Sarah to now be on track towards qualifying for the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The Birmingham Games will feature the largest Para-sport program in Commonwealth Games history, including the women’s T33/34 100m sprint, a category Sarah has targeted as an opportunity to test herself against some of the world’s best Para-athletes.
Receiving the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship will assist Sarah in her journey towards the Games.
KURT FEARNLEY SCHOLARSHIP CONTINUES TO SUPPORT NEXT GENERATION OF PARA-SPORT STARS
Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of New South Wales welcome the next class of Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipients who are targeting the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.READ MORE
The Kurt Fearnley Scholarship is a joint venture between Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of NSW.
The Carbine Club has a proud tradition of supporting junior sport in New South Wales and the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship furthers this commitment to best enable the latest four young Para-sport athletes to reach their goals of representing Australia at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Evoking the spirit of the Carbine Club, which celebrates sporting endeavour and thus recognises that winning is important, but grace and courage also matter.
Traits which have been exhibited by the four deserving young stars in the latest class of the scholarship initiative, Para-sport young stars like Sarah Clifton-Bligh.
Commonwealth Games Australia are thrilled to have Sarah Clifton-Bligh as part of the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship Program and are excited to follow along as she chases her sporting dreams and ambitions.