Dunedoo teen takes on the world

A tiny school in central NSW will be tuning into the Paralympics, which open in Tokyo today, to watch one of their own in action.

Image: Counting down the days: Jamieson Leeson at a school event to mark her selection in the Australian Paralympics team.

Only three years after taking up the sport of Boccia, Jamieson Leeson has reached the pinnacle of her sport and will represent Australia at the 2020 Paralympics, which start today.

The Dunedoo Central HSC student is in Tokyo to compete in the individual and pairs events and will be joined in the Australian Boccia team by fellow public-school alumni Dan Michel, who attended Heathcote High School and former Killarney Heights High School student Spencer Cotie.

The team is well placed to bring home a medal with Australia ranked fourth in the world.

Jamieson said she was looking forward to competing on the international stage again.

“It’s been over two years since I competed internationally so it will be good to get back into real competition,” she said. “It’s a really good sport and I meet lots of amazing people.”

The delay in the 2020 Paralympics due to the pandemic has been a logistical balancing act for the teenager, who has juggled her HSC around training commitments.

At the end of Year 11, Jamieson decided to complete Year 12 over two years to accommodate the heavy travel commitments involved with her representative pathway to the 2020 Paralympics.

She completed three of her HSC subjects last year, excelling in each of them, and will complete the final three subjects this year when she returns from Tokyo.

Jamieson laughs that her original idea to leave her harder subjects until after the 2020 Games, has not gone quite to plan with the delay meaning her current exam line-up includes Maths Extension 1 and Advanced English.

In the lead-up to the Games Jamieson has undertaken an intense training routine – juggling one week at school and then one week in training camp in Sydney, where the team would practise for up to six hours a day.

Among her most fervent supporters are Jamieson’s classmates at Dunedoo.

“All of the Dunedoo Central School community is so excited for Jamieson to be representing Australia in the Paralympics. We can’t wait to watch and cheer her on,” said Dunedoo Central principal Donna Lane.

“Jamieson has worked so hard over the past few years juggling her school commitments along with her training schedule.

“She is proof that anything is possible if you set goals and are willing to work hard to achieve them.”

Already a champion

Moorebank High School student Ricky Betar is another HSC student who has juggled his HSC and the Paralympics.

Ricky, who has autism, will be competing in the 100m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay and 100m backstroke.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Ricky, who has a Japanese mother, said he was excited to be going to Tokyo.

“It feels so good to be part of the Australian Paralympic team, and it feels extra special for me considering that I’m going to compete in the country where I was born,” Ricky told the SMH.

Moorebank High School principal Vally Grego said the school was staying in touch with Ricky and sending messages of support.

"We are all so very proud of Ricky and his achievements," Ms Grego said.

"What a huge milestone 2021 will be for him; against all odds he is representing Australia, us, at the Tokyo Paralympics and graduating high school. What a year to remember.

"The staff, students and parents of Moorebank High School give a shout out to Ricky because he is already a golden champion!"

Our other Boccia stars

Boccia made its Paralympic debut in 1984, and tests competitors’ degree of muscle control and accuracy.

Competing in wheelchairs, athletes throw, kick or use a ramp device to propel leather balls as close as possible to a white ball called the ‘jack’. The aim is to get your balls closer to the white target ball, the 'jack', than your opponent.

Dan Michel attended Heathcote High School and started competing in 2008 at 13 years of age in the Department’s first Boccia Knockout event. Dan went on to represent Australia at the 2013 BISFed Asia and Oceania Boccia Championships in Sydney and qualified for the 2014 BISFed Boccia World Championships in Beijing. Dan competed at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, and won his first individual gold medal in international competition at the 2017 BISFed World Open in Kansas, followed by a silver and bronze medal at the 2018 BISFed World Boccia Championships in England.

Spencer Cotie attended Killarney Heights High School and started competing in 2010 at 11 years of age. Spencer first represented Australia in 2014 at the Hong Kong Open, where he and Dan combined to win the silver medal in the mixed pairs. For their first international hit-out as a duo, it did not take them long to find their rhythm, and a clinical 11-1 victory over Macau set the tone for the next five years of their partnerships. By the end of 2018, Spencer and Dan had climbed to world number 3.

Goalball competitors

Goalball is a sport exclusively for athletes with a vision impairment. Goalball competitions are set apart from all other Paralympic events due to the unique atmosphere inside the playing venue. The object is to roll the ball into the opponent's goal while the opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies.

Amy Ridley attended Turramurra High School and at 15 years of age, she participated in the NSW Goalball 4 Schools program in 2017. She represented her state as a junior at the Australian Goalball Championships and the Pacific School Games, and was a member of the Australian Team that won the silver medal at the Youth World Championships in 2019. Now, as one of the rookie selections in the Team for Tokyo 2021, Ridley has the chance to cement a place in the Belles team for some time to come.

Jenny Blow, a former Ryde Secondary College teacher, is both a competitor and coach. With two Paralympic Games under her belt, she is one of the Australian team’s most experienced competitors. Jenny made her international debut at the 2010 International Blind Sports Federation Goalball World Championships in England, and represented Australia at her first Paralympic Games in 2012 and again at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. She is currently working with the Paralympic Committee.

Inspiring others

Among the other public-school alumni competing is former Endeavour High School student Amanda Reid.

Reid, who is competing in the women’s cycling events, said she was delighted to be competing on the world stage again.

She said her mother had inspired her to always know that whatever difficulties she was going through there “is always light at the end of the tunnel”.

Reid said being able to stand up as a proud Aboriginal competitor was incredibly important.

“It means the world to me to be able to inspire the next generation of indigenous disabled athletes to try Paralympic sport … it's just deadly,” she said.

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