Children with disabilities compete in inclusive Gold Coast athletics championship

Alexis Kalofonis proudly clutched her green ribbon; the mark of a third-place effort in the 50-metre sprint.

“It’s my first time getting one [a ribbon] with a number on it not just ‘competitor,'” she said.

Alexis said at school athletics carnivals and cross country events she didn’t place in races.

The eight-year-old has cerebral palsy and dreams of becoming a Paralympian.

This is the first time she’s competed in an annual athletics carnival for children with disabilities.

“I’m blown away with how much effort they’ve put in for our kids,” said her mum, Linda Wagstaff-Kalofonis.

Ms Wagstaff-Kalofonis was overcome with emotion as her daughter raced alongside other children with equal abilities on the Gold Coast.

“The fact they’ve put this on for us means more than anybody could ever know,” she said.

“It’s really special. It’s something we’ll remember forever.”

Launchpad for future Paralympians
The event is back for the first time in three years, with 500 students with disabilities from 17 Gold Coast schools competing across 400 events.

Gold Coast Recreation and Sport chief executive Anna-Louise Kassulke said there was “no question” that potential future Paralympians were among the competitors, getting their first taste at scaled events.

“It’s about giving them that drive and enthusiasm to go further,” she said.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people with disabilities to showcase their abilities against equal abilities.”

Ms Kassulke highlighted the importance of competition for young athletes with a disability.

“These students, some of them are in inclusive education, so they don’t get to do this back in their schools,” she said.

“It creates a fair and equitable competition … we can create that environment today, which is unique.”

The importance of feeling included
Eleven-year-old Daniel Nesbitt won the 50-metre and 100-metre sprints.

“It’s just my favourite day,” he said.

Daniel’s mum Rachel says she “couldn’t be more proud” of her son, who is autistic and was diagnosed with ADHD.

“We’ve just moved here seven weeks ago from Perth. We’ve never been to an event like this so this is just amazing,” Ms Nesbitt said.

“[It’s] such a great opportunity for Daniel to take part and really feel a part of something.”

David Tuzi from Varsity College Primary said staff and students have been preparing for the carnival all year.

“We absolutely love it,” Mr Tuzi said.

“Inclusion is so important and a lot of these students don’t have all the success at all times and this is an important event for them to find success.”