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If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain

21 December 2021

Pembroke watched in awe recently as Year 10 student Izzy Vincent swam her way to a Silver Medal and a Bronze Medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Her achievements are even more incredible when you realise that Izzy has only been swimming competitively since 2018 when she burst onto the national swimming scene winning nine medals at the School Sport Australia Swimming Championships in Hobart. I chatted with Izzy and her mother Toni while they were in quarantine in Melbourne following the Tokyo games.

Tim O’Loughlin
Head of Publications

What a wonderful experience the Paralympics must have been; do you have any highlights?

Being part of the Australian team was the real highlight for me. I was the youngest on the team so that meant that I had plenty to learn from those around me, and the other athletes were really generous with their support. Being part of something like that is a unique experience and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Tokyo. The Japanese people were amazing, especially the volunteers.

The relays were a real highlight also, to be a part of two great groups of athletes who are all exceptional humans. We were able to secure a silver in the women’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay and a bronze in the women’s 4 x 100m medley relay. Bringing home those medals has been pretty special. I have been told by every single person who has held them how heavy they are. They are beautiful, and heavy, medals!

There must have been challenges too; can you tell us about them?

The lead-up to the games was exciting of course but challenging. I was away from family and friends for 10 weeks and got a bit sick in our pre-Games training camp in Cairns. There were plenty of necessary restrictions and requirements, so by the time we got to Tokyo I was already feeling a little fatigued. It was hot in Tokyo, averaging around 37 degrees with very high humidity. The logistics of getting up early every day to get your COVID test in was challenging, and just getting to the transport to get to the pool for training and then back again between sessions was exhausting at times.

Can you tell us what it was like to be a part of that team?

Being part of the Paralympics is a real honour. I had heard athletes talk about it before but I really didn’t understand the impact until I got there. Before the departure camp in Cairns I was only close to two other team members who I had met in the Australian Development Squad. My time in Cairns and Tokyo gave me the opportunity to meet a load of inspirational athletes who I can now call friends. On competition days when we weren’t swimming the whole squad was at the pool supporting the rest of the team for the full day, so we got to know each other really well. There was also plenty of time at the Village together. This was a lot of fun! The Australian team didn’t go to the opening or closing ceremonies to ensure that we were safe from any COVID exposure. We stayed back in the Village and watched our flag bearers represent us. The athletes chosen to do this are exceptional and perfect representatives of the team, which is also referred to as ‘the mob’.

Were you able to learn more about your own swimming by being around other elite competitors?

There is so much to learn, especially because I have only been swimming for a relatively short amount of time. In para-swimming each athlete has some sort of impairment so every swimmer has had to adapt. An individual develops techniques with a coach or coaches, maximising their strengths and overcoming weaknesses. It was great to see how other coaches worked with their swimmers to get the best results. There is a little trial and error with this, no doubt, and each coach has their own strengths too. We didn’t have the opportunity to see a lot of competitors from other countries training, again to ensure that we were safe, but we did manage to exchange a few team badges and make some connections online. I really look forward to the chance to meet other athletes face to face and mask-free at competitions in the years to come.

Do you plan to be a part of the Australian Paralympic team at the Paris games in 2024?

Now that I am back from Tokyo I am building up training again and am focused on continuing to improve. There are opportunities to make teams for the World Champs and the Commonwealth Games next year, although that would be a stretch. I would love to make the Paris Paralympic team in 2024; this has always been my goal. With the announcement of the 2032 Games here in Australia, I hope to still be swimming at these in Brisbane in 2032! I will be 26 years old then and there are several athletes still swimming well at this age.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by the resilience and determination of so many of the athletes I got to meet as part of this campaign. Prior to that Kurt Fearnley was my first real inspiration. I read his book when I was 6, mostly because he was the only other person I had heard of with the condition that I was born with. I have had some contact with Kurt over the years but was lucky enough to meet him earlier in the year. He was all that I had hoped he would be and more. Kurt has done more for the Paralympic movement and the promotion of parasport than anyone else I can think of. He has helped me understand the strength we have as a parasport community.

I have been supported by my coaches, family and friends here in Adelaide. I want to do my best for them, so that is motivating. Over the past 4 years I have met some truly talented and brilliant athletes with impairments who have been really welcoming and supportive. I decided when I started competing that I wanted to give others the same support and kindness that those athletes had given me. One of the first para-swimmers I met at competition was Jade, a friend from Port Lincoln, who is short-statured. She was probably one of the main reasons I wanted to keep competing initially. I met Jesse Aungles who was originally from Adelaide but now swims at the AIS. Jesse is an S8 swimmer; he was born without his legs. Jesse is one of the most generous and supportive athletes on the team. I feel really lucky to have him as a friend.

There have been suggestions that the Olympics and Paralympics should merge, but they are very separate competitions and I have been told that the cultures of each are different. As a Paralympic family we have our own set of really strong values and we are proud to be Paralympians. During the Paralympics the Australian Government announced that Paralympians would receive the same medal incentive as Olympians. This was a big moment, probably more for the
recognition of the athletes being worthy than the financial benefits. The rookies on the team are so thankful to all the athletes that came before us; they have done all the work to get to this point but have not all had the benefit of it. The hard work of all these athletes and supporters is inspiring.

What do you plan to be doing after you leave school?

Paris is in 2024 so my first year after school will likely be focused on that. I am interested in psychology so am hoping to balance study and swimming initially when I leave. There are lots of areas of psychology that interest me; I think I would like to work with athletes and possibly in parasport ultimately. It’s an exciting time and I am sure there will be lots of opportunities to make a difference.

I am also doing some fundraising for the promotion of
Para-sport here in South Australia. I hope to continue with this in the years to come. The fundraising is nearing the $10K mark now and we have a little way to go. I am hoping that we can purchase some sports wheelchairs to be used in PE classes in primary schools. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to really participate with peers in this way. Hopefully we can encourage more sports-loving students to take up parasports and increase awareness.

Is there anything you can say to your fellow Pembroke students about being resilient and approaching challenges?

Well, first, I’d like to say how much I appreciated the support from Pembroke while I was away and in Tokyo. All the contact was so encouraging and a good distraction at times. We are so lucky to have technology that allows us to keep in touch; the support was awesome! In regards to advice I would say keep working to enhance your strengths, no matter what you are doing. Surround yourself with great people who encourage and inspire you. Push past the negatives and work around your weaknesses. There will always be challenges for all of us but by working through these you grow; they are part of what makes us who we are. If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.

Editorial Note: If you would like to support Izzy’s fundraising for sports wheelchairs, a GoFundMe is avaliable on Instagram @izzysuperfish.