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Episode 8: Speed Racers

Meet people with disability from across the state in Choice and Control, a podcast from Carers Queensland.

Wheelchair racers Natasha Price and Adam Shepherd

Meet distance wheelchair racer Natasha Price and her coach, former wheelchair athlete Adam Shepherd.

Download the transcript for this episode

If Natasha’s sporting achievements have inspired you, you can find out more about the Auckland Wheelchair MarathonDisability Sports Australia, and the Sporting Wheelies.

You can also check out Bridge to Brisbane, Natasha’s first race as a wheelchair athlete – before she even had a racing chair!

You can find out more about the Gold Coast’s accessible beaches program, which Natasha and Adam have been involved with, here.

The Australian Institute of Sport have guidelines for inclusive sport which have tips for making everyone welcome regardless of ability, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, ethnicity, location or stage of life.

If you have a story you think we should feature on Choice and Control, please contact our enquiries line on 1300 999 636, or email cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au.

Please note due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, this episode was recorded by phone.

Download the transcript

00:06 Douglas Connor: Hello and welcome to Choice and Control, a podcast celebrating the contribution people with disability make to our communities.  In this series we are talking all things disability, social inclusion and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Throughout this series you will also be hearing some great practical advice for making the most of your NDIS plan from local people accessing the Scheme.  This podcast series is brought to you by the team at Carers Queensland, NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community.  I’m your host, Douglas Connor, thank you for tuning in.

On today’s episode I’m lucky enough to be chatting to Adam Shepherd and to Natasha Price, a dynamic geo from the Gold Coast who are joining me to chat about their experiences in wheelchair sport. I also talked to Adam and Tash about some of the work they’ve been doing to make the Gold Coast a more inclusive place for people with disability.  Hi Adam and Natasha and thank you so much for taking the time this afternoon.

1:14 Natasha Price: Yeah, no worries. It’s good to be on.

1:20 Adam Shepherd: It’s good to be here.

1:24 Douglas: Adam and Tash, you two have been training together for a while now. Can you tell me how everything got started for you as a partnership?

1:30 Natasha:  Yeah, it’s a good story actually.  I went to a development camp at the Australian Institute of Sport when I was pretty new to racing, coming up two years ago now. And everybody knew I was looking for a coach because there’s really not many in Queensland, and a mutual friend of ours suggested that I get hold of Adam and see if he was willing to give it a go. So that’s exactly what I did, and I guess the rest is history.

2:10 Adam:  Yeah, very much. I literally, I was a wheelchair racer for about 10 or 12 years and I stopped in the early 2000s. I’ve always kept an interest in the sport and I became a qualified personal trainer and I sort of always kept one hand in the fitness industry.  One day I just got this Facebook message off Tash and she’s like ‘Hey, I’m looking for a coach.’

And I was like ‘Awesome, let’s do this thing.’

So that’s basically the ride so far.

2:48 Douglas: Awesome, so Adam as you mentioned you were an athlete in the past and predominantly a coach and personal trainer now.  Can you tell me a little bit about your career in sport and then some of the work you’ve gone on to do in the years since?

3:02 Adam: Yeah, sure, absolutely. So I was involved in sport at a very, very early age. I was born with my disability, spina bifida, so I was involved, I think I started swimming competitively in local disability competitions and things at like seven or eight years old.  And so I was a swimmer for quite a long time.

Then got sick of staring at a black line, you know, the pool. So then I sort of dabbled in a bit of wheelchair basketball and that was a lot of fun, but that was just sort of side thing. And then one day a guy I know had an old racing chair that he was getting rid of ‘cause he’d got a new one.  Somehow the idea was struck that I’d jump in and have a go and absolutely loved it, and never looked back basically from that point.

So I started racing. I joined the local runners club. I was the only person in a wheelchair in the in the runners club, but I did all their fun runs and all that. I was involved with sporting wheelies in Brisbane already, so I started going to their competitions and going away on their teams and that sort of thing.  I decided I’d had enough about probably 2001, 2002, I think.  I’d sort of been toying with the idea of quitting racing for a while and yeah, and it was about then that I decided it was time.

4:43 Douglas: For you Tash, you’ve had a pretty rapid rise in terms of wheelchair sport over the last couple of years. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey?

4:53 Natasha:  Yeah. So for me, I’ve got a rare disease which left me paralysed and blind pretty much overnight. After lots of treatment and lots of relapses and, you know, everything else, I ended up being unable to get out of bed for pretty much eight or nine years. I just kind of got to a point with my life and the way it was that I couldn’t live like that anymore. I couldn’t continue on just literally lying in bed all day, every day, watching TV and just having no goals, no dreams, no prospects of the future. And I literally sat there one day and said to my mum ‘I’m going to do a marathon.’

She kind of looked at me and laughed and was like, ‘Yeah. Okay.’  (laughs)  ‘Pull the other one, how do you think you’re going to do that? You can’t even transfer off the bed into a wheelchair at this point.’

And I was like, ‘No, no, I’ll do it.’

Literally would have been three months later I did my first Bridge to Brisbane, in day chair, which was just 5k.

I did a lot of road racing in my day chair right up to half marathon. So that was 21k.  Doing that in a day chair is not fun. It’s not an ideal way to go about things, but I did that for maybe 18 months or so, just gradually increasing distances.  It got to a point where somebody said to me, ‘You need to get a racing chair’, but it took me a really, really long time to get the funds in order to actually be able to take that up as a sport.

Finally managed to get my race chair would have been three weeks out from the Gold Coast marathon in 2018.  I went and did the race when I’d only the chair three weeks.  I did the full 42k.  I had no idea what I was doing: the chair broke down, the front tire burst, everything you can imagine that could go wrong went wrong for me on that race. But the one thing is, I will never forget some of the lessons I learned through it. Because for me at that point, it was just supposed to be a bit of fun. I was going to do this marathon once, or just as a bit of a hobby. And I met some of the Paralympians there, and they said to me, ‘You really need to start thinking about taking this up seriously.’

They told me about the camp at the Australian Institute of Sport, and I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll go along to a development camp, see what it’s like’, and the rest is history. I just fell in love with the sport and I fell in love with the people that it draws into it. So I just ran with that or, you know, pushed with that. (laughs)

So from that point on, I went on to win the Auckland marathon last November, and won my first Queensland State Championships in March.  I was supposed to go to nationals in Sydney at the end of March, but obviously with the COVID stuff that’s been postponed for now.  I’ll see what happens with all of that stuff.  I’m hoping one day to represent Australia. So we’ll see what happens.

8:54 Douglas: It really is a meteoric rise in such a short time. And I’m really interested in terms of, from a coaching perspective, how does training work, what sort of exercises and activities are required to get you in shape to complete a wheelchair marathon?

9:12 Natasha: It’s a lot of work. I’m training in total about three hours day, but that includes stretching and all the preparation work, activating muscles and all that kind of stuff.  Then we do a distance session in my race chair twice a week and we do an interval track session twice a week.

9:43 Adam: Wednesday, we generally treat Wednesdays as a bit of a recovery day, sort of funny in the middle of the week, but it’s more of a recovery day. We do a core session, and when pools are open, we swim as well.

9:58 Natasha:  I couldn’t swim, certainly not as a paraplegic, until meeting this guy.  I was absolutely petrified of water and now you can’t get me out of it.  I love it.  I get a real kick out of swimming.

10:14 Adam: Or not.

10:15 Natasha: Yeah, not a kick.  (laughs).  A paddle.   And we do strength training. I do that five times a week ‘cause I do the extra day on the weekend.  But we try and separate it so that we concentrate on certain muscle groups on certain days.  Because you’re doing all upper body, you’ve got to try and isolate those muscles.  Because you can’t do one day upper body and then one day lower body like able-bodied people might do.

10:56 Adam:  And the important thing for a wheelchair user like Tasha or like myself, whether you’re a wheelchair racer or not, looking after your shoulders and your upper body joints is absolutely imperative.  You can do things like rotator cuff injuries which can be really, really detrimental to somebody who has no use of their legs at all, who can’t walk and solely relies on the upper body to get around. So, we have a really strong focus on injury prevention and things like that in training as well.

11:23 Douglas: And obviously the gyms have been shut in Queensland for a couple of months now, how have you been able to sort of adapt to those circumstances?

11:32 Natasha:   Tough. It’s been tough. I mean, we have still managed to train certainly the same number of hours, the same days per week.  But we’ve obviously had to very much adapt what we were doing.  Both of us had equipment at home that we’ve kind of pulled together and used as best we can, and we’ve tried to maintain a cardio elements from home as well.  But I’ve definitely lost fitness, not a huge amount but so much that I’m noticing it in the speeds I’m able to do. My endurance is about the same.  I guess the thing is we have had to do a lot of road sessions while I’m in my racing chair and whilst that’s great to get the distance you’re not getting the same intensity of training because you’re always stopping at lights, you’re having to be careful with traffic around you.

There’s always obstacles, which means your heart rate doesn’t really get up for any good, decent amount of time. So that’s had had a little bit of an effect on things for me.  But the great thing is we’ve gotten back into the gym and to the track and things are already starting to improve. So I think when you’ve got that base level there, it’s not quite so hard to get back to where you were, as long as you’re willing to put a few hours a week in.

13:08 Douglas:  Obviously, as you mentioned before, COVID-19 is forced a couple of events you were training for to be cancelled or postponed.  Is there still any big competitions or anything that you’re training specifically for at the minute, or is it all being put off for a couple of years?

13:26 Natasha:  It’s so frustrating. For me, all of my events have been cancelled  at this point. Certain things they’ve rescheduled, the week that everything got cancelled, sorry that we were all went into lockdown, I was supposed to be doing Manchester marathon in the UK.

The problem is they’ve rescheduled for October and if the borders don’t open I won’t be able to do that either so well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens there. They’re talking about still rescheduling the National Athletics Championships, but I don’t know when that will happen. That’s short distance racing, you know, I’m state champion but it’s not really my event, it’s not what I’ve specifically trained for.

I want to get back to marathons, but I just don’t know how long that’s going to be.  There’s not a huge number of great events in Australia to do a marathon.

14:38 Adam: For a wheelchair racer.  It’s a little bit different for a runner, but for wheelchair racers there’s a lot of focus on what the course is, like what the road surfaces and that sort of thing.

14:51 Natasha: And hills.

14:52 Adam: Consideration needs to be taken into all the money spent going to those events, if the track or the course is not great what’s the benefit of going at all versus going just to tick another race off.

15:12 Natasha  The only one that’s looking like it probably will go ahead that we can get to is Auckland marathon again, which is the first week of November.  If the New Zealand travel bubble goes ahead that that will be all right. But unfortunately it is a tough, tough course with them, the chance of getting a decent time on it just makes it very, very difficult.  You wouldn’t be able to be use it for a qualifying time for anything. However, it may be the only race I can do this year, so I will go to it regardless.

15:50 Douglas: Well fingers crossed that will all go ahead.  We sort of mentioned this in your previous answer, but in terms of the opportunities then for young athletes with disability in Australia, in particular in wheelchair racing, how’s the pathway in Queensland?

16:06 Natasha:   Yeah, it’s a difficult one I think, based in Queensland specifically there’s not a huge amount of support for wheelchair racing. It’s getting better. There’s certain people that are doing great things to advocate for the sport in this area, but unfortunately our local wheelchair sports association doesn’t really push wheelchair racing as a sport that matters all that much. So you go it quite alone in Queensland.  If you’re down in Victoria or New South Wales, it’s better.  Wheelchair Sports New South Wales is a fantastic organisation. They, they put on a lot of races and training and events and stuff.

17:03 Adam: They’re very good with being inclusive of interstate athletes as well, Queenslanders and whatnot.  They keep us in the loop and informed as well.

17:33 Natasha:  It’s very good.  At New South Wales Institute of Sport, Louise Sauvage who’s clearly one of Australia’s best ever wheelchair racers had a big hand in the way that program has been developed there. So they’ve got a great mentor and a great source of information there, she’s been fantastic with us as well.

17:41 Douglas: Adam, you probably speak to this. You mentioned your experiences as a younger person doing swimming and the variety of sports that you’re involved in, how important do you think those strong athletic pathways are for young people with disability?

17:55 Adam:  Extremely important, extremely important. I don’t want to say more important than for any other child without a disability, or person without disability.  But in a lot of ways, it is.

Myself as a wheelchair user for example, my opportunities for health and fitness and exercise aren’t as, you know, I can’t just go and join a basketball team or a football team or soccer team.  The pathways there are really important because there’s less of them, for people with disability. And we’re certainly trying to change that.  And the future is looking bright.

I was lucky. I grew up with parents that were like, ‘you give everything a go’ and I wasn’t sort of wrapped up in cotton wool at all.  they’re like ‘you go out!’ and if I stacked it in my chair or whatever, you know, so be it, dust myself off and go again.

So it’s taught me resilience and it’s a massive, massive part of my life, so very important.

19:16 Natasha: I think as well, and certainly something I learned with becoming involved in sport is that sense of identity and feeling like you have somebody that you’re similar to and who understands you. And that’s the great thing about having other wheelies and that kind of involvement. There’s such a camaraderie around it. And I think because there aren’t that many wheelchair users around who you tend to meet just in everyday life, it just gives you a bond with other people, you need somebody who you can talk to who understands.  It’s important.

20:01 Douglas: And Tash you were recently nominated as one of the Gold Coast Women of the Year. You must be tremendously proud of that achievement. And a couple of years ago, you were presenting to thousands of people during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. It seems like it’s been an absolutely huge couple of years for you.

20:16 Natasha: It really has. It’s so surreal. Honestly, just over three years ago I couldn’t move out of bed. And then here I am, not that long after, as you said, presenting at the Commonwealth Games charity gala, and medal and veil in front of a thousand Olympic athletes, and VIPs, there were politicians and all sorts there.  It was a crazy experience.

Then I went on to do the Queen’s Baton relay, which was just mind-blowing.  I did it up in Tambourine and they had over 5,000 people there. It was just crazy.  And then obviously coming on to this year where I got nominated and to be a finalist for the Gold Coast Woman of the Year. I’m in the top three for the Champion of Sport category.

It’s crazy. I mean, to me, I’m just a person getting on with my life and making the most of every moment and loving it. And if people see inspiration in that, then I’m very, very honoured.  I just, just hope that I can always do what I can to show how wonderful life can be in spite of challenges, you know, it’s a wonderful world out there. You just got to grab life by the horns and go with it.

22:09 Douglas:   And you’re both accessing support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Can you talk to me a little bit about how that NDIS support helps you achieve your personal and your sporting goals?

22:19 Natasha:  So I guess in a lot of ways it’s given independence, for me specifically, because obviously I have a visual impairment as well as the mobility issues.  Being able to pay for support that I just wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.  Somebody who can drive me around and help me out with my day to day tasks, whether that be acting as my eyes when we’re out and about, or just helping me with you know, day to day tasks.

It’s made a huge difference to my life. It really, really has. I feel much more independent with the help and support of NDIS.

23:08 Adam:  For me, I’m fortunate that I drive but for me the NDIS has certainly made life a lot less stressful. I live with my wife and my three-year-old son in a two story, two bedroom townhouse.   I’ve got to stay loose that gets me up and downstairs and that sort of thing, but the basic things that you would do as a house owner or as a property owner, cleaning the house and things like that, in that kind of environment, are tenfold harder as a wheelchair user in that kind of confined space.

So I’ve been lucky through NDIS. I’ve been able to get some assistance with cleaning the house and things like that.  Being a wheelchair user for nearly 38 years as well, I’m a bit of a go getter, I like to go out camping and I go fishing and all that sort of stuff, so my mobility equipment from time to time can take a bit of a beating. So it’s good to have the funds there for things like bearings and just general maintenance that because I am so active do need doing fairly often.  It’s been great for that as well.

24:34 Douglas:   That’s awesome to hear. And so apart from sport, and obviously you’re both incredibly passionate about sport and training and keeping fit, but you’re both also very passionate about accessibility and inclusion.  In terms of distance wheelchair racing in Queensland, how inclusive an environment is it?  Do all the marathons and distance races have options for the participation of people with disability, or is it only a limited few?

25:02 Natasha:  Yeah, so we’re very, very lucky in Queensland that we have Gold Coast Marathon that runs a fantastic event for wheelchair racers. In fact it’s the best one in the country. They do it so well, it’s a great course. And it’s an established wheelchair race that takes off ahead of the general marathon. Outside of that, unfortunately there’s not that much inclusion when it comes to road racing. The track athletic side of things is really, really good.  Any Athletics Australia event can have wheelchair racers involved.

Road racing is different because they’re often concerned about wheelchair racers getting caught up with the able bodied runners, and usually the able-bodied always take precedence, which is a real shame, because I think they’re missing out on a lot by not being more inclusive of what they do.  That being said, it could be a lot worse.

The issues we’ve mentioned before can make road racing more difficult, you know?  If the road surface is bad, if there’s hairpin turns and lots of things like that, there are many different considerations that you have to take into account when you’re racing in a wheelchair.  Being somebody who’s already crashed, burned, broken my collarbone, and given myself post traumatic amnesia for six months, I can definitely say that you really need to pick and choose your races.  You have to do your research on the courses you decide to participate in, and that’s probably my  fault for being the kind of person who tends to wing things a little bit.

27:14 Adam: No!

27:15 Douglas: You hadn’t noticed that, Adam?

27:16 Adam:    No, not at all, not at all.  As a coach, as her coach, Tash is extremely determined and.

27:33 Natasha: Stubbon?

27:34 Adam: Stubborn’s a good word! And as her coach, I like to try and keep her in one piece where possible. I have to try and slow her  down a little bit sometimes.  Not slow her down, but, you know, rein her in.  Only on the odd occasion.

27:58 Natasha: Like once a week?

27:59 Adam:  Or three times a week.

28:01 Douglas: That doesn’t seem too bad.  In terms of inclusion and accessibility more generally, I’m talking outside of sport, you’ve also been doing a fair bit of work in the community trying to make society in general more inclusive for people with disabilities. Can you tell me a little bit about that body of work?

28:20 Adam: Yeah, so we – Tash and I – both have a huge passion for making the world a better place for people with disabilities. And so we put our minds together and came up with this business idea that that we’ve put into practice where we basically work with businesses around accessibility and inclusion. We talk to them specifically about working with different people with disabilities, what they can do to get people with disabilities into their businesses.

It’s really an untapped – no, I wouldn’t say untapped, but it’s a demographic that a lot of businesses aren’t realising, and there’s a lot of people out there with different disabilities and with some small changes there’s a lot of business out there that can become really, really good at being accessible and inclusive. So Tash and I’ve been doing some great stuff with Queensland Surf Lifesaving, and we’ve also been doing some consultancy work for some businesses that are building accessible accommodation, things like that.

29:42 Natasha: I’m working with Volunteering Gold Coast as well. We’ve recently been involved with helping to get the beach access-

29:58 Adam: Yeah, the Mobi-Mats on the beach.  The pilot program was Surfers Paradise, with the surface Surfers Paradise Surf Lifesaving clubs.  So we did that in conjunction with obviously Surf Lifesaving Queensland and Volunteering Gold Coast.  The Mobi-Mats are great, they’re a really good step towards having all our beaches accessible for people with disability.  The Mobi-Mats have been around for a little while, but I think they were given to the surf clubs to use but then surf clubs were like ‘I don’t know what to do with this.’

So we’ve been working with them and through Volunteering Gold Coast as well to put some practices in place and get a program happening with that so they’re utilised, which is great

30:53 Natasha: And obviously we’ve been working with the CCBIG group, never remember what that stands for-

31:01 Douglas: Community Capacity Building and Inclusion Group

31:07 Natasha: I know the letters but it takes me about 10 minutes to remember each one stands for!  (laughs)  We’ve been working with those guys to try and implement as many of our ideas as possible to make the Gold Coast a fantastic place for people with disabilities to live.

31:31 Adam: Yeah, there’s a phenomenal group of people from a massive demographic in that group. And we’re really lucky to be involved with that.  We’ll need a lot of time to get to all the ideas, ‘cause everyone just comes to the group with new ideas all the time. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it. So yeah, it’s really great.

32:00 Douglas: Well, it’s awesome to people having so much passion in terms of improving their own community and the place they live.  In n terms of the Mobi-Mats you know, you’re in the Gold Coast, the beach is such a big part of that culture and it’s so awesome that people can, everyone can go and enjoy that beautiful natural resource that’s there on the Gold Coast.

32:29 Adam:  You know, I’ve always been a wheelchair user and I’ve got a three year old son and you can’t live on the Gold Coast and not go to the beach, like, you can’t do that. My biggest thing for Fletcher, my son was I want to take him to the beach, you know, that’s what kids on the Gold Coast do.  So the introduction of the Mobi-Mat and the program we’ve been lucky enough to be involved with means that I can do that now. I can take him down the beach myself, he and I can go down the beach together and have some fun.  It’s really great.

33:05 Douglas:  That’s all I have to ask you guys today, but thank you ever thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with me.

33:11 Natasha: No worries

11: 12 Adam:  It’s been great, thank you.

33:22 Douglas:  Thank you once again for tuning into Choice and Control, a Carers Queensland podcast.

For more information about Carers Queensland, the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the Local Area Coordination program, please connect with us online or you can catch up with us on Facebook.

We hope this podcast can become a place for people with disability to share their experiences and their stories. So, if you have a story you think we should know about, please contact us via the Carers Queensland Enquiries Line at 1300 999 636, or via email at cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au

Until next time, thanks for listening.


A Buddhist monk's hands clasped in prayer

Episode 7: Making Australia home

Tsonkyni and Fatima have very different stories, but they have some things in common – both have family members with disability, and both have chosen to make Australia home

Coming Soon

Choice and Control will return later in 2020!

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Read more about our NDIS Local Area Coordination Partners in the Community Program.

If you have any questions, please call 1300 999 636, email cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au, or visit our Contact Us page.