Paris Paralympic Games 2024: Why Ellie Cole believes Paris 2024 will be a Games of unity; life as a para-athlete
Australia’s most successful female Paralympic athlete, Ellie Cole, does not have the Olympic rings inked on her – she has the Paralympic symbol – and she wants you to understand why.
Earlier this week, Nine was announced as the official Paralympics broadcaster for Paris 2024.
The deal complements Nine’s role as Australia’s official Olympic network and comes in addition to its 10-year deal with the IOC announced in February.
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According to Cole, having both the Paralympics and the Olympics on the same network sends a strong message of solidarity.
“In Australia, particularly over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of para-athletes integrate into Olympic programs and train alongside some of our Olympic champions, but in the past, we have been treated very differently as athletes and seen in a very different light,” she tells Wide World of Sports.
“We’re very competitive and we’ve been trying to share that story with Australia for a very long time.
“So, to be able to have the same broadcasting program, to be able to watch our Olympic counterparts and share their stories and be inspired by them as para-athletes, before going over and doing that ourselves a few weeks later on the same network is so important.
“It sends a really strong message to Australia that the Games are the Games – it’s not Olympics and the Paralympics – it’s the Games and it doesn’t just finish after the Olympics.”
A childhood cancer survivor, Cole’s right leg was amputated when she was just three years old to treat a life-threatening sarcoma.
Having gone on to forge a decorated 19-year career in the pool, all while navigating her physical impairment, Cole is proof of the power the Paralympic spirit can wield.
“As a person with a disability that lives in this country it’s quite confusing to know where you stand, in a way,” Cole says.
“Your identity can get a little bit lost, and in the past, people with disabilities have been perceived in such a negative way but now with the Paralympics, we are able to bring positive light and empowerment to those that have a disability.”
With Nine showcasing the Paralympic Games, Cole says there will be more opportunities to share the many incredible stories of Australia’s para-athletes and give a unique insight into the Paralympic movement.
“One thing that I’ve really embraced being a Paralympian and being part of the Australia Paralympic team is the culture of our team,” she said.
“We have the values; loyal, proud and fierce, and we have a short but powerful legacy behind us.
“As soon as you step onto the Paralympic team, you all of a sudden feel this sense of belonging that you have never felt anywhere else in Australia because you’ve grown up with a disability.
“It’s really hard to describe to someone, who is not a Paralympian, how special it is.
“I think Australians get small glimpses of it every now and then and it makes quite an impact on them. But, the more that they see our para-athletes and the more that they become part of our family, the more that they feel that as well.”
With Australian audiences able to more closely follow and interact with the para-athletes’ journeys to Paris, Cole believes the Games are sure to inspire the nation like never before.
“I went to four Paralympic Games myself and have gotten to know about 300 para-athletes over my career, and when you’re in a room with so many amazing people that have had things happen to them that have completely shattered their lives or turned their lives upside down, and they’ve been able to still step on the block or step onto the field and do some incredible things, it’s inspiring to be a part of,” she says.
“And I know a lot of para-athletes don’t like to be aligned with the word ‘inspiring’ but it genuinely is and I have been inspired by so many para-athletes and I know that the rest of the country can be too.”
Asked about the biggest developments in raising the platform of para-athletes throughout her career, Cole reflects on the “massive” leaps forward that have transpired.
“Beijing 2008 was my first Games – I barely even knew what the Paralympic movement was when I first went,” she said.
“Fast-forward 16 years to when I retired, for the first time para-athletes were being provided equal prizemoney by our government which was a huge step forward for clarity in particular.
“National sporting organisations are investing a lot more time into developing athlete pathways, especially for athletes with high need impairments.
“Para-athletes are also now household names … plus we have para-athletes that can support themselves financially through commercial sponsorship which was never been possible before.
“I’ve seen huge changes from grassroots sport all the way through to the top of the podium, as well as in the way that the country perceives para-athletes.
“I think people are really seeing the impact we can have and are just wanting to be involved left, right and centre.”
Having retired from para-swimming following last August’s Duel in the Pool event, Cole is now working as an ambassador for human services provider APM.
“I’ve seen what we’re able to do with the messaging around people with disabilities in sport – like incredible stuff – but if I look at any other sector in the country, that doesn’t reflect what we’ve been able to do in Paralympic sport,” Cole said.
“I don’t want every person with a disability to think that they have to be a Paralympian to achieve what they want to in life, but at the moment, the workplace doesn’t allow them to accomplish that either.
“So, I want everyone to be a gold medallist but in every single industry.”
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