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Sarah jumps for goals

Sarah Walsh 5 2015

Sarah, and her family, have been strong supporters of Limbs 4 Life over many years and it has been our pleasure to watch Sarah grow and develop as a person, an athlete and an amazing young woman over that time. In this edition Sarah granted us an interview so that we could learn about her recent achievements on the athletic field, what her future goals are and what it means to be part of the Limbs 4 Life and Limbs 4 Kids family.

At almost 17 years of age Sarah is beginning her transition to adulthood. In addition to facing decisions regarding what she will pursue after school Sarah is also proving to be one of Australia’s most successful young female amputee athletes. Exposure to Limbs 4 Life, other young people with limb differences and meeting a wide array of people through her sporting activities is showing Sarah to be a strong advocate for people with a variety of disabilities.

Sarah was born with a congenital limb difference which resulted in a lower right leg amputation when she was 17 months old. As Sarah said “I was so young when my amputation took place that I don’t ever remember having my missing leg”.

From a very young age, Sarah’s parents encouraged her to explore and investigate a wide range of sports and arts activities. Swimming, dance, gymnastics, athletics and wheelchair basketball have featured in Sarah’s life. All of these activities, except dance and gymnastics, continue to feature in Sarah’s life today.

“My parents allowed me to try lots of different things and I loved all of them. The only activity where my limb difference prohibited me from continuing was ballet and jazz dance, as I found that even with my prosthetic leg I couldn’t point my right foot – something you kind of have to do as a dancer!”

“I was 10 months old when I started swimming, and I continued to swim officially until I was 12 years old”, said Sarah. While Sarah doesn’t compete competitively as a swimmer, as a high level amateur athlete Sarah does swim weekly to maintain her endurance levels.

Sarah was a gymnast between three and nine years of age. “I started gymnastics when I was really young and absolutely loved it. If I hadn’t discovered a love and talent for athletics, I would probably still be doing it today”, commented Sarah.

Discovering athletics occurred at school for Sarah. “When I was in Year 3, a school athletics competition was being held and I was told that I had to participate. The school really pushed me to give running and long-jump a go”, said Sarah. Even though Sarah had never tried athletics before, Sarah asserted that the school “made me do it” and she “will be forever grateful that they did”. Sarah said that she “was terrified at first” because she had never run 100 metres or jumped into a sandpit before, however Sarah performed well and discovered a natural talent for athletics.

Not long after trying out the sport at school Sarah joined Little Athletics and was appointed her first coach. Sarah highlighted that “at the beginning I participated in running and long-jump wearing my prosthetic leg, but I soon realised if I was going to perform better I needed a specific running leg”. In 2009 Sarah received her first running Blade and immediately started to reduce her personal running times and long-jump lengths. “When my times started to reduce I felt even more passionate about athletics and started to really take it seriously”, explained Sarah. Sarah began performing in local, state and Australian competitions and is now generously sponsored by Ottobock for her Blade and by the Appliance and Limb Centre (ALC) for her socket.

Sarah is excelling in her field as evidenced in her achievements in 2015. Sarah recently competed at the Brisbane International Paralympics Committee (IPC) Grand Prix in March achieving a personal best of 4.72m in long jump. Prior to that, at the Canberra Track Classic in February Sarah achieved a personal best of 14.91 seconds in the 100 metre run.

Sarah’s commitment to her sport sees her train six days per week, swim one day and undertake gym training at home in between. Sarah emphatically said that “while I have to spend most of my week at school and in training, essentially my parents are training with me as they are there to support me by taking me to sessions, coming to my competitions and encouraging my team mates and me - my parents are so amazing.”

Sarah’s goal is to participate in the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) World Championships in Qatar in October this year and at The Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. “I am so excited that I might be selected for the Australian team as I would love to represent our country overseas. We have so many talented athletes with a variety of disabilities in Australia and I am so lucky to have trained and competed with many of them”, stressed Sarah.

Wheelchair basketball is a sport that Sarah also plays because she loves the opportunity to work as part of a team, make more friends and develop specific upper body skills. “While I get to use my Blade when competing in athletics I also love using my wheelchair to play basketball”, said Sarah.

Sarah is a passionate advocate for participation in sport and recreation saying that “it’s not just about whether you are good or not so good at something it’s just about having a go”. Sarah’s experiences have allowed her to make friends, meet lots of amazing trainers, travel and learn about various disabilities. “Some of the people I have met have physical, intellectual or sensory disabilities and what I have learned is that although we all have a disability we all have abilities. We’re all the same really”, stated Sarah.

Sarah is starting to think about future education and employment goals when she completes school recognising that, in a similar way to finding a sport you are suited to, it is important to think about “my future career”. While Sarah is interested in a range of areas, not surprisingly careers in the sporting arena hold particular interest.

In reflecting on her engagement with Limbs 4 Life Sarah noted that “the organisation has been part of my life since I was young and I am so proud to now be old enough that I can ‘give something back’ and share my experiences with other families and children”.

Sarah also looks forward to supporting the new Limbs 4 Kids program in the future because there wasn’t specific assistance for children and parents when she was young. “I’m so glad that Limbs 4 Kids is going to be around for children and families, and I hope I can help in some way”, said Sarah.

We wish Sarah all the best with her upcoming athletic competitions, we hope to follow her career as a world class athlete and are grateful to Sarah for her continuing support of both Limbs 4 Life and Limbs 4 Kids.

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