Tamsin Colley (Australia) – Para-Athletics has done wonders for my physical and mental health
In this blog, Tamsin reflects on her sporting journey so far and shares the positive impact para-athletics has had on her life.
Hi, my name is Tamsin Colley and I’m a 19-year-old track and field Paralympian from Sydney, Australia. I have Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and have also recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which was hard to pick up because of my Cerebral Palsy. I also enjoy advocating for a more inclusive world when I have time to make sure people with disabilities can receive the same opportunities in life as everyone else, especially the opportunity to experience the many social and physical benefits of sport.
I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of two after I had a brain tumour surgically removed at 18 months old. The brain tumour (a Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma) was in my cerebellum, so the removal surgery left with lasting speech, balance and co-ordination difficulties. Through the Sydney Children’s Hospital and later the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, I was lucky enough to receive opportunities from a young age such as physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. I used a wheelchair and walking frame up until age five.
My mum (Cathie Sherrington) comes from a physio background, so my parents were always looking for ways to keep me active and help my rehabilitation. They came across para sports such as athletics and swimming when I was 6 years old, and I instantly fell in love with the sport. I started competing at small disability meets then progressed through the school system when I was old enough. I made it to my first national athletics competition when I was 10 years old and set new meet records in all my events as a T36 classified athlete.
I competed in swimming, athletics, and cross-country for a few years and was competitive in all three disciplines until eventually I started specialising in athletics (partly due to my unstable ankles not being suitable for cross country and a wrist injury keeping me out of the pool for a while). We spent some time trying to find a coach that catered for athletes with disabilities, but we eventually found my current coach, Matt Rawlings, when I was around 12 years old. I have been training with him ever since and now I go three times a week to a grass track to train in a squad with athletes of all kinds of disabilities. I also now have a scholarship to the New South Wales Institute of Sport where I do gym sessions two times a week and other training at home.
Originally, my best event in athletics was the 800m, but due to the Paralympics not having that event for women of my classification, I had to retrain as a 200m sprinter which is one of the few athletics events for T36. I represented Australia for the first time at the age of 14 in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, having got my international classification earlier that year, making me the youngest competitor at those Paralympics. I was also the youngest ever Australian Track and Field Paralympian, which meant I got to meet the Governor General and have an interview with the oldest Australian Paralympian! I celebrated my fourteenth birthday in Rio two days before my race, and the Australian team threw me a surprise party which was a great way to make me feel part of the team! It was an incredible experience being in the village with athletes with all kinds of disabilities and I was so proud to be given that opportunity at such a young age. It was amazing being able to compete against athletes my own classification for the first time (in Australia we have multi-class events due to lack of participation) and I even raced against people from other countries almost three times my age in my event! I had the best start of my life at those Games and was on track to do a personal best time and make the final when I unfortunately fell over about 20 meters before the line in my 200m heat. I managed to pick myself up and finish the race, which I didn’t think much of at the time but people who hear of my experience in Rio tell me how much that demonstrates my resilience and the Paralympic spirit.
After Rio, I came back from an ankle fracture to win two silver medals in the 100m and 200m events at the 2017 World Junior Para-Athletics Championships in Switzerland. In 2019, I was a finalist at the Dubai World Para Athletics Championships in the 200m and came 8th in the inaugural 4x100m mixed universal relay. I just missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics due to some health issues but am training hard to qualify the Paris 2024 Paralympics currently as well as the World Para-Athletics Championships before that! As I am writing this, I am preparing for the Oceania Athletics Championships in Mackay, Queensland which I got selected into the Australian team for the 200m in!
I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given to work towards my physical potential as well as compete on the international stage and have always wanted to give other people with a disability the same opportunity. This motivated me to organise a special needs athletics carnival in 2017, and it was great to see all the athletes with disabilities who came having a go at the sport and meeting new friends along the way! Currently, I am an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Sporting and Recreation Association in New South Wales and do some administrative work for them when I can fit it in around my training and university work! We organise multi-sport social days for people with disabilities in our series of CPSARA Connect events and have one coming up on the 17th of July which I’m looking forward to both participating and helping out at!
I absolutely love giving back to the sport that has helped me so much and witnessing the confidence that being included in sport brings to people with disabilities. My lifelong goal of getting more people with disability physically active motivated me to study Exercise Physiology at university, which I have always wanted to do and finally got in to after finishing my high school journey last year with a result of 90+ out of 100! I wish people would stop assuming that people with disabilities can’t succeed in school or university, as with the right supports, we are able to do more than other people think we are. At university, I am studying part-time with a reduced load to help me to manage the workload along with my sporting commitments and not be so behind due to my disability making me work slower than other people. I also much prefer learning online than in person as it allows you to learn at your own pace and avoid the over-stimulation caused by school or university!
I look forward to the rest of my university degree and I feel motivated to learn knowing it will help me pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to help more people with disabilities live their best lives and stay active. I honestly don’t know where I would be in life without sport, and it has made a huge positive impact on my life which I hope to help other people experience. The Paralympics and para-athletics competitions have given me something to strive towards and done wonders for my physical and mental health, so I would love to share my love of this incredible sport with the world!
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in my journey leading up to the Paris Paralympic Games and beyond, you can follow me on Instagram (@tamsincolley) and Facebook (@Tamsin Colley PLY).
CPISRA is delighted to report Tamsin took Bronze in the 200m Para event at the Oceania Athletics Championships last month – huge congratulations Tamsin!