Sophie Delezio sits down with paralympian trailblazer Louise Sauvage

10 min read
0
32
Louise Sauvage in her element. Image: Supplied


In the third instalment of her monthly interview series on resilience, Sophie Delezio speaks to Sauvage about learning to love her disability and proving the naysayers wrong

Louise Sauvage is a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

The condition she was born with – a form of spina bifida called myelomeningocele – inhibited the function of her lower body, and required her to undergo 21 operations before she had even turned 10. But when a young Sauvage turned her energy and focus towards sports, she discovered an arena in which she could excel.

At 15, when she began wheelchair racing in a competitive capacity, it became clear that she had found her calling. Sauvage went on to win nine gold and four silver medals at four Paralympic Games over 12 years, and broke several world records.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

She also won the Boston Marathon in the women’s wheelchair category four times.

Sauvage has been a key player in putting disabled sport on the map in Australia – bringing it into the mainstream arena and paving the way for future generations of athletes.

This year she returns to the Paralympics, this time travelling to Tokyo as one of the coaches for the Australian team.

Growing up, were you aware of people treating you differently?

I was born with my disability, [so] I didn’t know any different. I went to a regular primary school, and I was the only child with a disability.

The only kid in a wheelchair. I think if you have any kind of difference, you [do] get bullied. Some kids would pick on me, for sure.

Forever being told what I couldn’t do was very frustrating. But as soon as someone said I couldn’t do something, that inspired me to want to prove them wrong. I’m very headstrong, stubborn and determined.

What was it that started you on the path towards a career in sport?

I was taught to swim when I was three to build my upper-body strength, as I was going to have to rely on it for the rest of my life.

My older sister was a very good swimmer so we joined swim club together and it went from there. I’ve got the competitive spirit. But growing up, I had no idea what the Paralympics were, and never dreamed of representing Australia.

I didn’t have any clue that I’d be doing something like this. When I got involved in sport for athletes with disabilities, I found a place where I belonged.

As I got better, there were international people who I looked up to – I wanted the respect they had.

A lot of athletes with disabilities have had things taken away from them. So they’ve got this chance to shine. A second chance.

How did your relationship with your body change as you got older?

My body is totally out of proportion – my wingspan is six foot and I obviously don’t stand that tall. It’s just the way I am, I suppose. But I was very much built to be a wheelchair racer.

[At 47] I’m at the age now when I don’t mind as much and I’m not as self-conscious as I was growing up.

You live in a world that’s not built for you, so you’re always trying to adapt.

One of the hardest things is being judged. People assume what you can and can’t do without even talking to you. Sure, there are some things I find difficult. I don’t change light bulbs and even changing a duvet cover isn’t my best friend, but the one thing I value the most in my whole life is my independence.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how have you overcome them?

Dealing with injuries, and knowing my body could really break down, was the reason why I retired in the end.

After I retired [following the 2004 Athens Paralympics], going to my first Paralympics as a coach did my head in because there were a lot of people there who I’d competed against.

Being there in a different capacity messed with me pretty badly. You’ve been a very successful person.

You had a routine. You had your team around you. You had your coach. You were on a schedule. Everything was worked out. You knew what you were doing and were very good at it. And then all of that stops and you’re like “Well, what am I good at now?”

You first attended the Paralympics in Barcelona in 1992, where you won three gold medals. Now, you’re preparing to leave for the Tokyo Paralympics, where you’ll be one of the coaches for the Australian Athletics Team. How have things changed at the event in the three decades since you first competed?

We’ve gained more respect. The athletes are remarkable and people see that.

People want to see these athletes compete. It’s entertaining, it’s highly competitive and they work just as hard as any able-bodied athlete. [Paralympic] athletes are now able to get the funding and support they need.

It’s been great to see that happen and know that maybe I was a small part of that.



Source link

Load More Related Articles
Load More In Health
Comments are closed.

Check Also

5 things you may not realise are sabotaging your workout

Training is all about getting the best bang for your buck. Head Trainer at the Australian …