Ethan Leard is ambitious. “I’d like to go to the Olympics one day,” he explained. “The Paralympics, and play for Australia.” 

But there are often significant barriers that can keep young people like Ethan from getting involved in Paralympic sports – access to grounds, facilities and transport, plus the cost of modified equipment.

Even our most talented Para-athletes often struggle to get on the field. When Australian wheelchair basketball player Bridie Kean was a teenager, it was difficult for her to participate in school sport.

“I started playing basketball when I was fifteen... as an amputee I tried to participate in sport at school, but I had a lot of trouble keeping up because of my prosthetics, and not (having the ability) to run,” she said.

“Being able to play wheelchair basketball at 15 not only increased my health through being physically active, but it also gave me confidence. The opportunities that came to me out of sport have been far more than I could ever have imagined.”

Chief among those opportunities is Bridie’s sparkling Paralympic career. Together with the Australian women’s wheelchair basketball team, the Gliders, she won bronze at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, and silver at London 2012 four years later. It’s troubling to think that some of Australia’s most gifted sportspeople could be entirely overlooked without opportunities as youths. Without access to wheelchair basketball as a teenager, Bridie might have missed out on playing altogether. 

Up and coming athletes like Ethan now have a better chance than ever to participate in sport via Get Involved, an initiative developed by the Australian Paralympic Committtee through funding from the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation. The program aims to get youths with a disability participating in sport. 

Whether or not they have hopes to become a Paralympian, all young people with a disability are able to take part in Para-sports such as Para-swimming, boccia, Para-table tennis, wheelchair basketball, Para-cycling, Para-athletics and goalball.

“Through our work across 18 Paralympic sports, we know the hugely positive physical and social benefits that sport can provide people with a disability,” said Jason Hellwig, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Paralympic Committee.

“We aim to inspire more young people to participate in Paralympic sport and encourage them to take it as far as their talent and desire possibly can.” 

For her part, Bridie wishes Get Involved was around when she was younger. “I would have loved to have had something like this when I was starting out,” she said. “To be exposed to the sport really early on means you can continue on to elite levels, or just keep playing for yourself.”

Ethan’s mum, Katrina believes it’s hugely important for her son to do what almost every kid does. “For Ethan, it’s a huge thing for him to feel that he can excel at something,” she said. “He compares himself to all his able-bodied friends at sport, and I think it’s really important for him to feel like he’s talented, and can grow and improve his skills.”

He’s probably a little young for Rio, but 2020’s not too far away. Watch this space.