A new parent is a nervous one — excited, but nervous at the same time. Every expecting parent in the universe shares a few common feelings, and nervousness is definitely one of them. There are so many things to look forward to, but so many questions that come along with it, including a very important one: “Will my child be healthy?” For Paralympic athlete Dylan Alcott, this was a question answered very quickly for his parents.
Alcott was born with a tumor wrapped around his spine. A surgical procedure to remove it ended up leaving him a paraplegic at the age of 10. The situation he was put in at a very young age could have one of two impacts on his life. Either he would be engulfed in the reality that he was now severely limited in many areas of his life, or he would relish an opportunity to prove that something so significant would never hold him back from achieving his dreams.
He chose the latter.
The Australian native quickly fell in love with sports, playing anything he could find a way to play. Specifically, Alcott enjoyed swimming, tennis and basketball. He worked hard as a young man, not allowing his disability to hold him back from doing what he loved to do. Fast forward a few years, and Alcott is now a multi-sport Paralympic gold medalist. Alcott has won three gold medals; one for wheelchair basketball in Beijing in 2008 and two in Rio for tennis singles and doubles in 2016.
This weekend, Alcott won his fourth straight quad title at the Australian Open. He was excited to win but seemed more excited about his audience.
“It [wheelchair tennis] is becoming normal now which is what I wanted,” Alcott said via The Guardian. “Did you see how many kids with disabilities were there today? It was so awesome to see that. Hopefully for the next generation of athletes with disabilities, it’ll be easier for them because of me.”
Alcott was part of a heavily used advertising campaign during the Open and became one of the faces of one of the year’s first Grand Slam. He said that seeing someone in a wheelchair regularly will change lives.
“I remember when I was a kid, I used to ask my parents and my brother why I never saw anybody like myself on TV,” he said courtside. “For a kid like me, now, they would have seen me at every ad break in the tennis, and that meant the world to me. This is a huge two weeks capped off perfectly.”
Following Hyeon Chung’s early withdrawal from his match against Roger Federer, Alcott was given centre court for his final match.
“To get a prime-time game, it was incredible, a perfect storm,” Alcott said regarding the last-minute change. “I could have paid Channel Seven a million dollars 10 years ago to feature wheelchair tennis. It was amazing to have it commentated, treated like an Australian Open match. By the third change of ends we had 10,000 people there. I couldn’t sleep last night, it was so cool.”
Prior to his final match, Alcott reserved a special message for kids with disabilities. He gave it following his win that launched him into the finals.
“I used to get bullied as a kid. I struggled about the fact that I was in a wheelchair, but if you ask me right now if I could have an operation or stem-cell research — whatever — there’s not enough money you could ever pay me because my disability has given me part of my opportunity in life. And I’m proud to be disabled, proud to be in a wheelchair.
“On the back of that, I’ve started my own foundation, the Dylan Alcott Foundation, to help young kids with disabilities who are embarrassed about their disabilities just like me, help them do whatever they do. The best thing my family did was never treated me any differently, so for any other kid out there with a disability — any other family — just get out there and live your life however you are.”
Alcott is also a basketball star, but his decision to return to tennis seems to be paying dividends.
“It changed my life, and now it’s changing the lives of others, [it’s] making people comfortable with their disabilities and [they are] coming out of their homes. Sport is a great medium for that.”
In 2018, for the first time, there will be a quad tournament at Wimbledon. Alcott is incredibly grateful that tennis is finally getting around to highlighting those in a wheelchair as well. His goal is to also get into the French Open eventually.
“Pulling on the all whites is a dream of mine. Saying I can’t wait until Wimbledon is the understatement of my life, [but] I really want to get us into Roland Garros. They’re dragging their feet a bit, but I promise we won’t disappoint, the proof [of wheelchair tennis’ success] is in the pudding.”
Alcott’s opponent in the finals, David Wagner, was struggling quite a bit in the heat but still had a few moments to address the media.
“It’s always fun to play in Australia, for people who enjoy the heat, which isn’t me,” said Wagner. “I don’t know if people know this, but as a quadriplegic I don’t sweat so it’s extremely hot out here, and I need as much shade as I can. Congratulations Dylan, I’ll be back hopefully next year when it’s colder.”
From the day he was born with a tumor wrapped completely around his spine, to now, where he is one of the faces of the Paralympics and wheelchair sports everywhere, Alcott has written quite the story with his life. Not only making a name for himself, but helping to launch his sport into the spotlight has been more than the ultimate achievement. There are kids around the world who will turn their televisions on and be given hope, when they might have had none prior to their introduction to professional athletes like Alcott.