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.
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!
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.
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.
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)