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Little Athletics opens doors for Paralympian McCracken

Little Athletics opens doors for Paralympian McCracken

“Athletics has given me a multitude of things. It’s given me a voice to be able to hopefully help the next generation. It’s given me opportunities in my personal life to be able to train really hard – and I do train really hard – but also to travel and do all these things.”

The first few times Rheed McCracken competed in the 100 metres at his local Little Athletics Centre in the Queensland town of Bundaberg, he would finish, and then the tears would flow. He was 13, and he was also the only kid there with a disability.

Young Rheed had originally tagged along with his big sister, Madelyn, to be part of the social side of things, admitting to being “terrified” by the prospect of actually taking part. Convinced that his cerebral palsy made him stand out, what he really craved was to fit in.

Eventually, though, his parents convinced him to get out there and join his mates. Just give it a try. McCracken started with shot put and a few track events, including the one in which he initially felt so exposed.

“My fear was because I was a little bit different and people might look at me as being different,’’ he recalls. “But as the time progressed and I got friendly with a lot of these people I thought ‘well, I might as well have a go at it’.

“And when I did have a go at it I used to cry at the end of my 100 metres because I kept thinking of it as ‘oh no, I’m on show, these people are going to judge me for my disability’, when that’s not the case at all. All those people just want to see you out there doing well and doing something.

“But for me it was just emotional, because you think those people are laughing at you when they’re really not. Maybe there might have been some kids my age that were laughing a little bit, but they don’t understand disabilities and we’re trying to change that perception of it.’’

And successfully, he has changed perceptions.

“My fear was because I was a little bit different and people might look at me as being different,’’ he recalls. “But as the time progressed and I got friendly with a lot of these people I thought ‘well, I might as well have a go at it’.

In little more than a decade, the three-time Paralympian is a wheelchair track medallist from the London, Rio and Tokyo Games, having made his debut aged just 15. His fondest memory at the pinnacle level remains the presentation ceremony in 2012 for his silver-winning T34 100 metres – of course it was – after his emotional family snuck through the media area to witness it up close.

As a junior, though, it was about the friends he made and the support and encouragement he received, including from coach Andrew Dawes, who has been there since almost the beginning.

“Athletics has given me a multitude of things,’’ McCracken says, reflecting. “It’s given me a voice to be able to hopefully help the next generation. It’s given me opportunities in my personal life to be able to train really hard – and I do train really hard – but also to travel and do all these things.

“Yeah, there’s some tough times, but I think that it’s given me everything, and I don’t take that for granted at all, because I’m not sure what I’d be doing without sport. So I’m just really thankful to be in this position.’’

He is also a committed role model, keen to give just as he received from the likes of Paralympic legend Kurt Fearnley, and for the sport to keep progressing and improving for those who come next. 

That includes those, like his younger self, who just want to “fit in and make some friends and have a go at a sport. When you’ve got a disability sometimes it’s just a different path that you might have to take.’’

“Yeah, there’s some tough times, but I think that it’s given me everything, and I don’t take that for granted at all, because I’m not sure what I’d be doing without sport. So I’m just really thankful to be in this position.’’