Abilympics exists to assist and enrich the lives of people with disabilities. Over our many years of operation our efforts have touched a lot of competitors and volunteers. Here is a small collection of articles and letters showcasing how these efforts have made a real difference.

Richard Higgins

If I were to be perfectly honest, I’d have to admit that during my 23 years of being a paraplegic I’d never heard of the Abilympics until last year. That’s a great shame, because after my recent involvement in the 8th Abilympics held in Seoul, South Korea, representing Australia in the wood carving category, it was a real eye opener. In my opinion the Abilympics should be embraced by many others who are disabled but have skills in which they can compete.

I didn’t bring back any medals, but if you’ll forgive the cliche, it’s not just about winning but taking part that counts and having the opportunity to meet many other competitors from countries as far away as Holland and Canada. There were hundreds of disabled competitors in Seoul who all came together to compete and show communities around the world that it’s about our ability not our disability!

This was the first time I’d been so far away from home with what started out as a group of strangers, but I returned home with fond memories and new friends. The whole experience from start to finish was an exciting adventure and I am sure there are many other talented disabled people out there who would benefit from the experience I had by proudly representing their country in the next Abilympics.

Ben Clough

Ben Clough was lucky to escape with his life many years ago. The Bachelor of Business student was driving to Perth from Muresk Institute of Agriculture when he was involved in a head-on collision just south of Sawyers Valley. Ben was travelling at 110kmh when the other car collided with his vehicle. The accident put Ben into a coma for 10 days and he lost his right arm. But he is not one to give in. Indeed, in a few days, the 27-year old Mt Lawley man would undertake a task few able-bodied people would bother to attempt.

Ben was a contestant in the 1995 Australian Abilympics and he would get just four hours to assemble an entire 18-speed mountain bike.
“I’ve always been good with mechanical things and though I’m a little slower since the accident I was confident I’d do okay,” Ben said. “I use my feet and legs to hold the parts but I was a bit worried about putting the tyres and the tubes together.” “I thought I might solve it by using my knees to grip them.” As well as losing his right arm in the accident, Ben now has only about 40-degree mobility in his left arm.

More than 1000 participants from many countries competed in the 1995 Abilympics at Burswood. The event featured 32 separate vocational workskill categories, including billboard advertising, studio photography, dressmaking and desktop publishing.

Before his accident Ben worked as a general hand in an engineering workshop in Melbourne and also spent two years as a shearer. His business degree carries a farming major and he is trained to use many computer packages. “My orthopaedic surgeon wrote me a reference, saying I can do anything I make up my mind to do,” Ben said. “And he’s right – I can do anything I make up my mind to do.”

Ben out to beat the odds

Article adapted from the Guardian Express – August 29, 1995
Photo taken by Danielle Smith

Victor Salvemini

I first became involved with Abilympics in 1981 after a call from the late John Fisher. The first World Abilympic event was to be held in Japan. Sir George Bedbrook , John Fisher and Mike Cull were involved in the genesis of Abilympics and Abilympics Australia. The event was to promote work skills.

Japan 1981

The first team from Australia travelling to Japan comprised of three competitors and a medical support team. The event was over two days. I competed in Cabinetmaking. There were people with many different disabilities. Only two were in wheelchairs and we both had to improvise our skills, being “side on” to the work benches. The experience, besides the event was culturally fulfilling. We experienced warm hospitality from our hosts and shared with them their history, ancient temples and traditional cuisine. From this event I formed an enduring friendship with a young volunteer, who has visited us in Australia three times.

Hong Kong 1991

Cabinetmaking was again on the list of events for Hong Kong. I was selected to attend again, where I competed again in cabinetmaking. My wife Jaquie, Adrian Young and I held fundraising events to raise the money to attend. Financial assistance was also provided by Abilympics. The first adventure was landing at Hong Kong airport. The old airport flew straight past Mrs Wongs’ kitchen, where she was cooking breakfast! There were 18 competitors in my category. The closing ceremony and banquet typified the hospitality we had experienced during the nine days of the event. The final adventure was to be had again at the airport where a typhoon had caused a three hour delay for our departure. The take off was not for the nervous flier!

Perth 1995

Through John Fisher’s efforts, the 1995 event was held in Perth. This time I was selected to compete in Woodturning. Perth was our most successful event, with the overall medal count second to Korea. Four gold and ten silver medals for Australia. The very successful event’s only disappointment was that we did not get to travel to another country.

Prague 2000

I was proud to be selected to travel to Prague in the Czech Republic to compete again in woodcarving. This time the travel was an epic adventure. A long twenty hour flight to London, then transfer to a flight to Prague. This time our accommodation was at a children’s school (it was school holidays). Prague is a very romantic city with an abundance of history, architecture and charm. The organisation for my event was excellent and the organisers arranged a standing frame for me to do my work. I was proud to finish 7th in my event.

Japan 2007

Again I was proud to be selected to represent Australia in Japan. Woodcarving was to be my event again. By now Abilympics had become a huge international event. Many thousands from many countries had come to share their work skills with the rest of the world. This time there was a parallel event for able bodied young people to share their work skills. As the senior statesman of Abilympics Australia I was proud to carry the Australian flag at the opening ceremony, the first flag to enter the auditorium. The hospitality and organisation were the best yet. At a reception after the opening ceremony, the Emperor’s son (the Crown Prince) attended and took the time to mingle with the Australian team. I was proud to be in the Japanese newspaper next day shaking his hand.

Over these 28 years of participation, I have met many wonderful people. Shared their culture, their friendship and their homelands. My wife Jaquie has attended four of the events with me which was a wonderful experience to share together. It was also an honour to share my skills with so many folk from all over the world.

This is my story. Vic (Wheelieroo)

Dr Philip Deschamp AAPS (Associate of the Australian Photographic Society)

A presentation made by slide show to Abilympics in Japan in 2008

I apologize that I can not be here personally to speak with you. I am 65 and have had quadriplegia for more than 40 years. I was just not well enough to come to Japan. I am sad because I would love to see your lovely country.

Before the Abilympics in Prague in 2000 I was working too hard. In addition to my work as a researcher, I also chaired several disability related committees including the Disability Services Commission committee on Monitoring Standards of funded services. My life consisted of attending meetings and writing reports.

The late John Fisher (the leader of Abilympics in Australia) invited me to be part of the team for the Prague Abilympics. When we looked to see what skill category I could enter we were a bit puzzled as there was no competition for report writing. John suggested that I enter the Photography section because as he said “Anyone can take photographs!”.

I enjoyed the Abilympics experience and met many very interesting people. As it turned out, even though I cannot use my fingers at all, I enjoyed photography and decided to learn more about it when I returned to Australia.

I bought a good camera and began to learn about the theory and practice of fine art photography. At first I was happy just to make a photo. Then I joined a camera club and began to enter competitions. After a while I have begun entering State and then National and International competitions.

After winning many National and State awards and being awarded the Associate of the Australian Photographic Society for my photography I wanted to identify a more purposeful direction for my photography. After a lot of thought I have began to specialize in photos that show an uplifting image of people with disabilities.

This has been a truly exciting experience. Several other photographers also accepted the challenge of this topic and we have photographed people with a disability who are successful artists as well as wheelchair athletics, electric wheelchair soccer, electric wheelchair hockey, Boccia for people with cerebral palsy, archery for people with an intellectual handicap, surfing for people with disabilities, and many other activities.

We give copies of the photographs to the people and organizations involved and are happy for them to be used as posters or in instructional materials and newsletters. Some of my fellow photographers had no experience with people with disability and for them it has been a strong learning experience.

I have cut back my workload so that I can give more time to photography. I write less reports and try to take more photographs that show people with disability in a positive way. This is a real challenge and one I enjoy very much. I hope some of these photos will help people with disabilities to see themselves as successful athletes and artists and as important members of our society.

In all cases such as this we are happy to provide copies of the photographs at no charge to ensure that we are not seen as commercial photographers.

It has been much more rewarding than taking award-winning photographs that end up sitting in a cupboard. These photographs are now framed on people’s walls and in their family albums. The experience has shifted me away from writing reports towards meeting a wide range of people and seeing their amazing achievements. This would not have happened had I not gone to Abilympics in Prague.

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