Elle Steel photo

Elle is an award-winning sportswoman and experienced personal coach and motivational speaker. During a 13-year swimming career, Elle represented Australia internationally and was captain of a number of Australian swimming teams.  Elle represented Australia at the 2000 Paralympics and held a Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship for eight years. After swimming, Elle took up the sport of wheelchair rugby. She was the only woman to be selected to play for Victoria at a national level. Elle’s motivation to play sport at the highest level was overwhelmed by constant injury associated with her physical limitations.

‘After many years of setbacks and injuries through my sport, I became very good at bouncing back and continuing on with my sporting and life dreams. I want to show people that with resilience, strength of character and belief we can all achieve our dreams, our ultimate goals!’

Elle shares her story with us below:

It wasn’t always easy growing up with something as obvious as walking in a different way and using a wheelchair to get around. I was born with a muscle and joint condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congentia – basically my joints and muscles don’t fit properly together which means my bone is often rubbing on bone. I also have a hand abnormality and club feet.

I did struggle with it for a long time and I believed that I was the only person in the world to ever have something that wasn’t ‘normal’. It wasn’t that I was angry at anyone, I was angry at myself for being the way I was.  It was as if I thought I had some kind of control over how I was born and how I looked. 

But the best thing is, once I got over the ‘I feel sorry for myself because I’m the ‘only one’ attitude’, I actually learnt how to use my disability to my advantage and achieve many of my goals.

My family has always been a great supporter in everything I achieved, and at age 11, my parents joined me up to a club that specifically created opportunities for kids with disabilities. 

I started swimming on Sunday mornings with about five other kids that also enjoyed swimming and had disabilities and eventually I was selected to swim at the Junior National Wheelchair Games.  This was a real turning point in my life and the moment when I realised that I was good at something. I came home with five gold, three silver, two bronze medals and the title of the female of the swimmer of the meet. 

As soon as I got home from the competition, I began training six days a week. I wanted to swim for Australia. 

In the year 2000, I was completing Year 11 and training for the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. At the last possible moment I swam a 12-second personal best time in the 400 m freestyle that automatically got me selected on the team. It also ranked me as the fifth fastest 400m freestyler for my disability classification in the world. I was 16. 

I went to the Paralympics and it was an amazing experience and I learnt so much about myself and how to operate in a team environment. I swam a personal best time and came 12th overall. I was extremely proud of how all my hard work had paid off. 

In the years that followed my sporting career wasn’t as successful–injury after injury occurred. Then during my key event in the selection trials for the Athens Paralympics my racing bathers split and were choking me – I couldn’t perform at my best and missed the team. I was the only Victorian Paralympic swimmer to miss out on selection for Athens 2004. I retired from swimming in 2006. 

In the years after, struggling with my personal identity, I went through a transformation of sorts where I learnt some very important life lessons. I learnt that I could be amazing no matter what I was contributing to the world. I had grown to think that I couldn’t be anyone else but Elle – The Swimmer. I was too scared to let the ‘Real’ Elle shine and let go of the category I had placed on myself! Once I had removed this category, my self-belief grew and I knew that I could achieve anything. 

In 2008, I went to watch a game of wheelchair rugby (aka Murderball); it was a life-changing moment for me because I found that thing I had been longing for since giving up swimming. I began training with 12 athletes and two years later I was the only female to ever play wheelchair rugby for Victoria. I believed I could achieve this despite the toughness of the sport and worked hard to make that come true.

My sporting career certainly had its ups and downs, but I am so thankful that I was able to experience it from such a young age. After more injury, I am slowly getting back to rugby, but I’m still not sure that it will happen but, it’s ok. 

I have taken on another mission, which is ‘to create a socially aware community where people with disabilities feel fulfilled, accepted and empowered as human beings who can make a unique contribution to the world.’ 

The acceptance of disability in our community starts with people with disabilities accepting who they are and what they can achieve in their lives. 

Be inspired by Elle by visiting her site Create, Believe, Achieve