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"Participating in sport has been an extremely empowering experience for me; it has allowed me to increase my confidence, strengthen my social support networks, and provided meaning to my life."
I was born without my right foot and fibula, an occurrence that happens to one person in every 100,000. While no reasons or answers exist for my ‘missing bit’ (aka Stumpy or the Stumpstinator), having one leg has enabled me to gain many unique experiences and set me on a Paralympic journey.
As soon as I started to crawl, I had my first prosthesis made and have been wearing one ever since. The number of legs in my collection seems to be growing exponentially – at the moment I have seven legs: my walking leg, a cycling leg, a spare cycle leg, a spare walking leg, an old swim training leg, and my swim teaching leg. My swim training leg is quite special because it is made of titanium, stainless steel and has the Aussie colours imprinted into the design. It helped me not only with my training and muscle work but also in other aspects of my life. For example I was able to walk into the surf at Bondi Beach and jump around in the waves and sand – something which I had never been able to do before. It was around this time that I was given some advice that I still use to this day that has become mighty handy “If you want something badly enough, then you will just have to get up off your butt and do something about it!”
Goal setting has been a part of my life since I was nine years of age. When having a prosthetic leg made, I glanced upon a picture of a Paralympian on the wall – a picture that also incorporated three massive gold medals – and decided that becoming a Paralympian was what I wanted to do. Becoming a Paralympic became my goal.
I think I may have always had an academic side, as after doing a bit of research, I discovered that Paralympians are an extremely awesome bunch of people. For example, there are at least nine Paralympians who have also competed at the Olympics across a variety of sports including swimming, athletics, and shooting. Paralympians also inspire others as they have the ability to generate humour about themselves, and have a genuine authenticity that is magnetic.
As such, my starting point was to track down a Paralympic coach. After receiving mentoring and guidance from Paralympian Don Elgin, I set my sights on representing Australia at the Paralympics and claiming a Paralympic gold medal. Since this time, I have been on an extraordinary journey filled with both many obstacles and opportunities. Highlights and learning experiences from my adventures include:
- Dislocating a knee cap one week out from my main event at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games
- Lesson about the power of choice and attitude we take in life
- Undergoing two hip surgeries and a 24 month rehabilitation to pursue my goal of competing in the sport of cycling at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games
- Lessons about patience, perseverance and loving the journey
- Recovering from shoulder impingement and glandular fever to go on and claim a bronze medal at the IPC World Short Course Championships
- Lessons about keeping in the moment, focusing on what you can control, and finding immense enjoyment in your passions
- Completing a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science and Bachelor of Sport Management (Honours) while being an elite athlete and working at the same time,
- Lessons about the importance of time management skills, communication and balance in sport and life
- Changing sports from swimming to cycling
- Lessons about transferable skills in life
Participating in sport has been an extremely empowering experience for me; it has allowed me to increase my confidence, strengthen my social support networks, and provided meaning to my life.
I am currently balancing my sporting life with PhD studies at La Trobe University, with the topic of wellbeing in elite disability sport. I am also working one day per week as an athlete career and education advisor at the Victorian Institute of Sport and love to check out Melbourne’s café hotspots. Just a few things keeping me busy at the moment…
Ride safe, ride with a smile, ride in the moment,
About the Author:
Hannah Macdougall is a dual Paralympian, previous World Record Holder, has captained the Australian Swimming Team at both a World Championships and Paralympic Games, completed a double degree in Sport Science and Sport Management with Honours, and still manages to find time to locate coffee hotspots around Melbourne!
To read from Hannah, go to www.hannahmacdougall.com.au
Photo courtesy of Arnaud Domange Photography