11 Women to Watch at the Rio Paralympics
By Sam Squiers
Carlee Beattie – Athletics
Carlee’s the reigning world champion and current world record holder in the F47 long jump, and is looking to win gold after finishing with silver in London.
A keen sportswoman Carlee was actually discovered in a shopping centre when she was approached by athletics coach Brett Jones. Shortly afterwards she was competing at the Beijing Games.
Holding the world record of 6.01 metres, Carlee is currently coached by Gary Bourne who also coaches Paralympic silver medallist Mitchell Watt.
Angie Ballard – Athletics
Angie is going to her fifth Games and will be aiming for her first gold medal. She’s the current favourite in the T53 400m event but will compete in the 100m, 800m, 1500m and 4x400m relay. Angie’s currently coached by 9-time Paralympic champion Louise Sauvage.
When Angie was seven-years-old, she was involved in a near-fatal accident that paralysed her. Although she doesn’t actually remember the car accident, she recalls waking up on the side of the road unable to move after her father asked her to sit up. After spending six weeks in hospital, Angie returned home to her native Canberra and commenced rehabilitation in Sydney the following year.
Angie actually credits her school PE teacher with finding her competitive edge in wheelchair racing.
Isis Holt – Athletics
Take a moment to think what you were doing as a 14 year old?! Now meet Isis Holt barely in her teens she’s already broken two world records…oh, then she broke them again and again.
Isis burst onto the scene just two years ago and will compete in the T35 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay for athletes with cerebral palsy.
This is her first Paralympics, but just watch this space, this is a superstar in the making.
Katie Kelly – Triathlon
Katie has Usher Syndrome, a rare degenerative disease that affects hearing and vision. An able-bodied triathlete prior to losing her eyesight, Katie turned her disability into an opportunity when she took up Para-triathlon only months after being deemed legally blind. She made her debut for Australia at the ITI World Paratriathlon Event on the Sunshine Coast in March 2015, where she won gold in the PT5 class and posted a time considered to be in the top five of the world.
Katie has run major marathon events and ocean swims around the world including the Port Macquarie Ironman, Alice Springs Marathon as well as the New York Marathon.
Katie has now paired up with Sydney 2000 Olympic Triathlon silver medallist and two-time World Champion Michellie Jones, who will be her guide in the race.
Ellie Cole – Swimming
Ellie is 24 and is going to her third Paralympic Games. She won four gold medals in London including two gold, and after a double-shoulder reconstruction in 2014, made her comeback at the 2015 Worlds where she broke a world record.
If that’s not enough check out Ellie’s schedule for Rio, she’s competing in 50m, 100m & 400m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 4x100m medley relay, 4x100m freestyle relay.
Ellie was diagnosed with cancer at the age of two. After a round of treatment that did not reduce the cancer, her parents made the agonising decision to amputate her leg.
Two days after the surgery, Ellie was standing on her new prosthetic leg and with the encouragement of her mother Jenny (and the incentive of a few tasty Freddo Frogs) she was walking steadily within a few weeks. Two decades later, Jenny regards Freddo Frogs as a good luck charm and carries them with her to each of Ellie’s major competitions.
Daniela Di Toro – Table Tennis
Danni is 2016 Team Co-Captain along with Kurt Fearnley and this will be her 6th Paralympic Games. Danni may be a five-time Paralympian in wheelchair tennis but has now turned her attention to table tennis and is in the unique position of being a rookie on the team, while having so much Paralympic experience.
Daniela was 14-years-old when a wall collapsed on her at a school swimming carnival severing her spinal cord. A keen sportswoman from a young age, Daniela thought she had no future in sport, until she met wheelchair basketball legend Sandy Blythe while undergoing rehab for her injuries.
With Sandy by her side during her recovery, Daniela was inspired to take up wheelchair tennis, the Para-sport version of the sport she always loved.
Danni made her debut for Australia in 1989 and won 9 consecutive Australian Open titles, the U.S Open twice and was the World Champion in 1998 and 1999.
In the Paralympics, Danni won silver in Sydney in the doubles and bronze in the singles in Athens.
We can’t wait to see her compete in Table Tennis!
Melissa Tapper – Table Tennis
Milly made history this year when she became the first Australian to qualify for a Paralympic and Olympic Games in the same year. She lost to a local Brazilian at the Olympics but has returned to Rio with an eye on redemption in the Paralympics.
Born brachial plexus Erb’s palsy, which affects the nerves in her right arm, Melissa never saw herself as someone with a disability, and as a result, began her climb up the table tennis ranks in the able- bodied arena.
Growing up in the regional Victorian town of Hamilton, there were few female players to compete with and it wasn’t long before she was defeating able-bodied men in the area. Quickly making a name for herself, Melissa made her first state team at 12-years-old and her first Australian junior team at 14, carving out the foundations for a successful career in able-bodied table tennis. With her sights set on the Olympic Games, she decided to take table tennis seriously and knuckled down with her training.
By 18, Melissa became the number one junior female table tennis player in Australia; she was also the U18 Oceania champion and U21 Australian champion and was moving her way up the world rankings.
But Melissa’s world changed when the Australian Paralympic Committee suggested she try Paralympic table tennis. Milly made her debut in London and lost the bronze medal match which is fuelling her determination for Gold in Rio.
Liesl Tesch – Sailing
Liesl is one of Australia’s most decorated Paralympians and this will be her 7th and final Games. Liesl has competed in five Paralympics as a wheelchair basketballer, leading the Gliders to silver medals in Sydney and Athens and bronze in Beijing. Liesl then made the switch to sailing a few years before the London Games where she won Gold with Dan Fitzgibbon in the SKUD class.
Liesl was mountain biking when she was 19 years old when she somersaulted forward off her bike. By herself and unable to move she was eventually found by a nurse. During intense rehabilitation Liesl was able to regain some feeling in her legs and it was during rehab where she discovered her love of Basketball and so her Olympic journey began.
Kathryn Ross – Rowing
Kathryn won Australia’s first medal in the sport in 2008 alongside Paralympic great John Maclean. It was a silver, narrowly missing gold by just 0.08 of a second. Kathryn competed with Gavin Bellis at the London 2012 Games, where they placed fifth. Fuelled by the disappointment of missing out on the medals in London, the pair has now gone on to win three consecutive world championships and be the gold medal favourites for Rio.
When Kathryn was two years old, an accident with a ride-on lawn mower at home left her with a deformity in her right leg. Although both her right knee and ankle joints were fused together at such a young age, the accident did little to quell the sports mad girl and she progressed to the top of Paralympic rowing with the help of her family and support team
Carol Cooke – Cycling
Carol’s story will move you…and she featured in Sportette two years ago. Read the story here!
Carol was a police officer in Canada for 14 years and was a talented swimmer who was set to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics before Canada boycotted the games.
Fast forward a few decades and Carol had married an Australian and moved to Melbourne when she was diagnosed with MS.
Her doctor lacked any bedside manner and basically told her to go home and get her affairs in order because she would be incapacitated.
Oh boy has Carol proven him wrong!
Carol found exercise actually helped her MS symptoms and soon found her way onto a bike and onto the top of the podium with a gold medal around her neck in the Individual Time Trial at the 2012 London Games.
She’s won multiple World Championships since then and is an inspiring figure – watch out for her these games!
Sue Powell – Cycling
Sue won Australia’s first gold medal on the first day of competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the 3km individual pursuit and won silver days later in the road race.
Sue’s story proves you’re never to old to start something new. At 40, Sue suffered a seemingly innocuous spinal injury playing hockey. Injuring her sciatica, the accident left her with nerve damage and resulted in weakened movement and strength in her right leg. In just her first year of competitive cycling Sue won the World Championship and the national titles in road race and the individual time trial. Outside of cycling, Sue is an environmental scientist and completed her PhD in 2011.