From Tokyo 2020 to International Day of People with Disability, Rachael leads the way

After winning back-to-back gold medals at the Rio and Tokyo Paralympic games, Rachael Watson is back home in Brisbane and diving into her new role as an International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD) Ambassador.  

We were delighted that Rachael was able to chat with us about her paralympic experience, her mentorship, and thoughts around this year’s IDPWD theme - ‘Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world’

What is the message you want to get out to the world this IDPWD?

I really want people to know that having a disability does not mean every single dream you have is unachievable. People with a disability deserve the same opportunities as everyone else, and that means making the world more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

What do you think are some key issues people with disability face? 

Inflexible employment; inaccessible housing, parking and venues; finding quality support as well as proper partnership with advocacy organisations and government agencies - I'd need a book to mention everything, and a second volume to include my ideas on how to fix it! But the most important thing is to start listening to people who have lived experience, because we have an understanding that others don't have. We are only sharing it to help others.

If just one person listens to my voice, then that is one person I have helped. I'd love to help many more people though and take away the fear when it comes to the word "disability". 

You are an ambassador for IDPWD for 2021, but you’re also a mentor in your field – could you tell us about how you are helping athletes with disabilities at the start of their swimming journey? 

I mentor athletes who have a physical disability as part of the UQ ParaStart program. The program is designed to introduce people with physical disabilities who have high support needs to an aquatic program. The immediate goal is to have them swimming independently, before introducing competition and one day potentially making the Paralympic team.   

Your Paralympic journey started with rehabilitation, can you tell us about your journey from relearning how to swim, to being a Paralympian?  

I had a lifejacket on and two people in the water and it started as hydrotherapy before I became strong enough to swim by myself again. I worked my way up from very small intervals before progressing to a full 25m lap, and then eventually a 50m lap. Once I could do that, the focus was on increasing endurance and speed. It was a long process! 

And now you’re a dual-paralympic gold medalist! What would you say to someone with a disability who has the dream of getting to the Paralympics? 

You need to have a "go-getter" attitude. Know that it will be hard and some days you'll actually go backwards, but if you're willing to still turn up the next day to try again it will get easier.  

Consistency is key. 

There will be hiccups along the way, but if you have the right people in your corner, committed to helping you achieve your goal, this will make for a strong team. 

You have so many achievements under your belt – what’s next for you?  

The next focus for me will be on qualifying for the World Championships in Portugal in June 2022. I also intend on completing further study at university to enhance my learning and help me gain employment.

Are you celebrating International Day of People with Disability, or in training for Paralympic glory like Rachael? We’d love to hear about it.

Sulphur Yellow
Rachael wearing a green and gold singlet and holding her Paralympic medal up next to her face