International Day of People with Disability 2021: Deakin student and para-marathon runner Matt Felton reflects on elite sport
Friday 3 December is International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD). Held annually and celebrated internationally, the day aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability, and celebrate their achievements and contributions.
To celebrate IDPwD this year, we’re focusing on the benefits of participation in sport for people with disabilities. We invited to two of Deakin’s elite para-athletes Matt Felton and Finn Broadbent to reflect on their respective sports and achievements, and what advice they would share with budding athletes. Here, Matt talks about the positive impact sport has had in his life.
Matt Felton is a para-marathon runner, business professional and Deakin student who is supported by the University’s Elite Athlete program.
A bronze medal winner in the 2018 Para Marathon World Cup, Matt first began playing sport at the early age of six thanks to the support of his parents.
‘My family weren’t overly athletic, though I loved the competitive nature of sport and they supported my enthusiasm,’ he recalls.
‘I first played soccer and the teamwork appealed to me, it was great to make friends and develop my fitness. As I grew older my interest moved towards athletics.’
Matt says he has learned a lot about his own physical capabilities through participating in sport.
‘Through competing in para sport, in particular the marathon, I have learnt a great deal about the way I move and how I can optimise my strengths to balance my weaknesses. Para sport has given me an awareness of my own physical capabilities and what the human body is capable of.’
However, when speaking of his love of sport, it’s clear that through his involvement Matt has gained more than just physical strength and endurance.
‘I love sport predominantly for what I’ve been able to learn about, cooperation, leadership, friendship, and the pursuit of excellence,’ he says.
‘All of these competences have helped me to make sport not only a passion, but it has also lead me to represent my country at the highest level, a feat I’m extremely proud of.’
When asked about the impact of sport on the community, connectedness and inclusion Matt was unequivocal about its benefits.
‘Sport has a significant impact on developing strong social bonds. Those that participate in sport are generally healthier and that carries through to every part of their day-to-day lives. Sport is a place where people from all ethnicities, skill levels and abilities can come together to share the pursuit of goals with friends and competitors, it’s an amazing way of feeling connected.’
For sporting clubs looking to be more inclusive and accessible, Matt believes that communication and transparency is extremely important.
‘Make it clear on your literature and website that you are inclusive. Furthermore, reaching out to local disability groups and explaining you have inclusive opportunities can be valuable,’ he says.
What is Matt’s advice for anyone considering taking the plunge into sport?
‘It can be daunting trying out a sport for anyone with or without a disability. Start by researching what sports you might enjoy most. From there it’s a good idea to get in contact with your preferred sporting group prior to your first session, that way the coaches are aware of your disability.
‘Most importantly, if the sporting club you contact can’t accommodate your disability don’t be disheartened, there are great para-specific clubs that are focused on getting the most out of those who are differently abled.’
‘To anyone with a disability considering starting a sport, or looking to be more physically active, remember it’s all about getting out there, having fun and being part of your community.’
Take the plunge, get involved in sport today! Visit deakin.edu.au/idpwd.