Dylan Alcott: Paralympian and disability advocate named Australian of the Year

The West Australian
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Retiring tennis champion Dylan Alcott has been announced as Australian of the Year, the first time in the award’s history that a person with a disability has been given the honour.
Camera IconRetiring tennis champion Dylan Alcott has been announced as Australian of the Year, the first time in the award’s history that a person with a disability has been given the honour. Credit: Supplied /Supplied

Retiring tennis champion Dylan Alcott has been announced as Australian of the Year, the first time in the award’s history that a person with a disability has been given the honour.

Alcott made a whirlwind trip to Canberra for the awards after winning a spot in his eighth straight Australian Open quad wheelchair singles final on Tuesday.

National Australia Day council chairwoman Danielle Roche said Alcott was an “inspirational Australian on and off the tennis court”.

Ahead of the ceremony, having just beaten opponent Andy Lapthorne, Alcott praised his fellow Australian of the Year nominees and remarked “I honestly think I’m making up numbers”.

“But I talked to my my team and I was like ’look, if by the very odd chance you have a win, you cannot do that on Zoom’,” he said.

“So many people with a disability should have won that award over the years but haven’t.

“I would never forgive myself if I don’t go, even though I don’t think I’m going to get up.”

Dylan
Camera IconDylan Alcott. Credit: AAP

While he’s known for his tennis, Alcott is adamant that’s not what defines him.

“Winning grand slams and gold medals isn’t my purpose. It’s like, the 30th priority of my life,” Alcott said as he accepted the honour in Canberra on Tuesday night.

“My purpose is changing perceptions so people like me can get out there and live the lives they deserve to live.

“It was my purpose yesterday, today and my purpose as your Australian of the Year for the next 12 months and beyond.

“I love my disability. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. It really is. And I’m so thankful for the life that I get to live.”

From Melbourne, Alcott has had a remarkable tennis career, having won 23 quad wheelchair grand slam titles and last year became the first male in history — in any form of tennis — to win the Golden Slam.

Alcott was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord. A surgery left him a paraplegic and he has spoken about being bullied about his disability as a child.

He has said he “hated” himself growing up, but credits sport with saving his life.

Alcott, who was also part of Australia’s successful men’s wheelchair basketball team before switching to tennis, claimed his first grand slam title in 2015.

“(He) is a champion who has risen to the top of the world rankings through sheer grit and determination. His Golden Slam is an incredible feat, the first for any male tennis player,” Ms Roche said.

In 2017 he founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation - a charity aimed at helping young Australians with disabilities gain confidence and fulfil their potential.

Alcott will retire from tennis after the Australian Open but has vowed to continue trying to build his legacy.

The 31-year-old, who is prominent in the media, co-founded Get Skilled Access and is also behind AbilityFest, the country’s first and only inclusive, fully accessible music festival.

He took out the Australian of the Year accolade ahead of finalists from each Australian state, including WA Australian of the Year Paul Litherland.

Mr Litherland, a former policeman who founded Surf Online Safe, was acknowledged for his work educating students, teachers and parents about internet safety.

Basketball player and Indigenous rights advocate Patty Mills, scientist, engineer and inventor Professor Veena Sahajwalla, NT Aboriginal Justice Unit director Leanne Liddle, Small Steps 4 Hannah founders Sue and lloyd Clarke and documentary filmmaker and journalist Craig Leeson were the other Australian of the Year finalists.

Alcott takes over from 2021 Australian of the year, sexual assault survivor advocate Grace Tame.

St John Ambulance Valmai Dempsey, of Canberra, was awarded Senior Australian of the Year for her half-a-decade volunteering career.

Ms Roche said she “embodies the Australia spirit of volunteering”.

Dr Daniel Nour, 26, of Sydney, was crowned Young Australian of the Year for founding Street Side Medics, a GP-led mobile medical service for people experiencing homelessness.

Meanwhile, Sober in the Country chief executive Shanna Whan, of Narrabri in NSW, was titled Australia’s Local Hero.

After giving up alcohol in 2015 after almost losing her life to her drinking addiction, she founded Sober in the Country, which has led to radical social impact and change around how alcohol is discussed in rural Australia.

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