sports

'I cried when Dylan Alcott was made Australian of the Year. But we still have so far to go."

As a person with a disability, I couldn’t have been more pleased when it was announced that Dylan Alcott was Australian of the year for 2022. His acceptance speech will go down in history for articulately expressing what it means to live with a disability in this country. 

Tears fell down my cheek with each word that Dylan said. It was as if Dylan had access to a trapdoor into my brain. As if I wrote his speech myself.

He hit on every point. Every feeling I have had about having a disability.

Watch: What does it take to be an Australian sporting hero? Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

I have a lifelong physical disability. I cannot walk, stand or transfer myself out of my electric wheelchair. Like Dylan, I am extremely lucky to have the life that I have. Many non-disabled people do not believe me when I say I am privileged. I am very aware of how privileged I am.

I am privileged because of the medical care I have received.

I am privileged because of the parents I was born to.

I am privileged because of my finically secure childhood.

I am privileged because of the education I have received.

Those four dot points I have just outlined are not the total of my life but are very handy to have behind you when you are facing the world as an adult with a disability.

I am going, to be honest. In the past, I haven’t always warmed to Dylan Alcott. Sorry, Dylan. But let me explain. 

When you have a physical disability from childhood, very often you are highly encouraged, or even dare I say, pushed into a disabled sport. Often disabled kids get a different type of 'career councillor' - medical professionals. In our career planning sessions, you got two choices:

A: become a disabled athlete or

B: live a miserable life.

Those were your only two options, or at least back in the ’90s when I was growing up. 

Being the determined little girl that I was, I picked option C. ‘Be a success in my own way,” ignorant to the disappointed looks on medical professionals’ faces. 

To them, I had unknowingly, in fact, picked option B, ‘to live a miserable life’. 

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To everyone, excluding my parents, my stubbornness to not strive to be a sports hero, had sealed my fate to become the ignored portion of society.  

For those medical professionals, there were after all only two options for my future. 

Flash forward to being in my mid 20s. I was stuck in a job I was overqualified for with little prospect of promotion. Like so many people with disabilities, I was underemployed, unsure if anyone would ever see past my disability. 

At the same time, I was witnessing, along with the rest of Australia, Dylan leading a successful life as a disabled man. Rightfully being supported and listened to. Our great tennis success story. 

I am not too proud to say, back then I was envious of him. Possibly even a little mad at him. 

Dylan had chosen the path that I had once refused. A path better understood by society. The only path it seemed, that allowed for success as a person with a disability.

It wasn’t his fault of course. Dylan was just being the great athlete that he was born to be. 

Listen: Chantelle Otten chats to Mia Freedman about her relationship with Dylan Alcott on the No Filter podcast. Post continues below.


Watching his success in the ‘accepted’ career path made me feel like I had made the incorrect decision for myself. That I should have swallowed my pride and chosen option A back when I was 10 years old. 

I want to be very clear that my resentment for Dylan’s success has now completely evaporated. Why? Simply, I am on the right path to, in time, succeed as a person with a disability. Even despite picking option C.  

I no longer feel like I’m drowning, trying to push back from the predetermined narrative of what my life ‘should’ be, living with a disability.

I again am a woman with a disability who is privileged. I was able to change my career. Not everyone has the privilege to do that.

I cannot put into words the significance of appointing Dylan Alcott as Australian of the Year. His appointment was not tokenistic but wholly deserved. For me, it marks a turning point toward mainstream acceptance of people with disabilities.

I hope that people without disabilities will listen, learn and be willing to help make change alongside him. Things do need to change. 

Disabled people deserve an equal opportunity to determine their own success. I have no doubt that Dylan will help make that ambition a reality.

Peta Hooke is a single woman in her thirties living with Cerebral Palsy. Peta is the creator and host of The I Can’t Stand Podcast, a weekly podcast answering the audiences’ questions about what it is really like to live with a disability. If you have a question for Peta to answer, you can contact her via www.icantstandpodcast.com or follow her on Instagram  @petahooke.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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