Para-athlete Darron channels his lived experience to grow inclusive sports at grassroots level

Published On: 14 March 2023Categories: NDIS, News
In 2013 Darron raced his way into the history books as the first para-athlete to finish the Sunshine Coast 70.3 half ironman triathlon. Now he’s channelling his strength and determination to grow inclusive sporting opportunities for people with disability.

The Sunshine Coast para-athlete has lived with a spinal cord injury (SCI) for more than 20 years after he was involved a road accident while training for a triathlon in 2002. He spent two weeks fighting for his life in intensive care and 8 months in a spinal rehabilitation unit to learned how to live with a SCI.

Darron is a self-confessed “fitness freak” who has always had a passion to see what the body and mind can achieve through sport.

Such is his mental toughness; he made a deal with himself during rehab to complete an Olympic distance event within 10 years of his accident. This is a gruelling 1.5k swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

“I completed the Noosa Triathlon within 9 years and 9 months of my accident,” Darron said. “I completed this first race in 3 hours and 2 minutes and I was a little frustrated and said to myself ‘okay, next time I will aim to do it in under 3 hours’.”

He went on to complete a Sports Science degree at the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) and for the past decade has competed in dozens of events such as the 2010 Paratriathlon World Championships in Budapest and again in New Zealand, in 2012, where he placed 11th.

Darron works as the business development manager for the Paraplegic Benefit Fund (PBF), whose founding father Sir George Bedbrook brought the Paralympics to Australia.

He also supported the growth of hand cycling in Australia and Queensland and was the state coach for the sport and a member of Cycling Queensland’s Para-Cycling committee.

The 54-year-old is also part of the Sunshine Coast Regional Council’s organising committee for its All-Access Day at the Beach in Mooloolaba and works closely with the Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association.

“Being a triathlon, either as an abled-bodied athlete or as a para-athlete helps me to focus. It clears the mind, it gets the heart and the lungs going and I love the camaraderie of the sport,” Darron said.

“It's about doing something that gets you out of bed and whatever that is, it should be accessible for everyone.”

In 2019 Carers Queensland supported Darron to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). He uses his supports to remain and regain his independence and for assistance with cleaning his house and tending his garden.

“The NDIS has been a godsend. It gave me my independence back and it gave me my freedom back,” he said.

“Right now I do most things by myself, but as I age, I’m sure I may need more supports, maybe daily activities or other areas that we take for granted. It’s good to know I have a NDIS plan for when my situation changes.”

Just recently Darron signed up to help Carers Queensland on its Inclusive Sports and Recreation project as a member of the organisation’s Beyond the Sidelines Reference Group.

As one of Australia’s largest NDIS partners in the community, Carers Queensland has a key role to playing in driving inclusive change in communities.

Its Sport and Rec project aims to increase the representation and participation of people with disability in sport and recreation, both on and off the playing field, in the lead up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Darron is one of 9 people with disability who will be instrumental in helping the organisation to identify best practices in sport and recreation for people with disability and remove the barriers to it.

“For me, what’s missing is inclusive sports at a grassroots level, so when I got the opportunity to go for this reference group, I knew I had something to offer,” Darron said.

“Yes, they're sports out there, but let’s use basketball as an example. There's opportunity for people with disability to play basketball every single day of the week. But if you're not a basketballer, how does that help them?

“It should be more about asking people with disability what they want to play and finding some pathways to this and building on it.

“It’s about making changes to ensure a person with a disability can go to a running, cycling or triathlon club and know they have access to knowledge, coaches, experience and equipment.”

Darron said inclusion should be in every organisation and governing body’s charter and that more conversations needed to be had with councils around infrastructure at the planning level.

“I've been working with Sunshine Coast Council on accessible ability,” Darron said. “We had a walk around the Sunshine Coast University Hospital and a lot of people were having ‘aha’ moments on certain things that I pointed out and it just brings an awareness to decision makers.

“We also must have robust conversations with planners so at the early stages it becomes a norm to have accessible stadiums and clubs, instead of having to spend lots of money after the fact to make them inclusive.”

Darron said the Sunshine Coast has a lot to offer in regard to sports and recreational opportunities for people with disability but there was work to done within clubs to make sure they were genuinely accessible.

“We can’t change everything but if we work together then we can pull our ideas, experiences and talents to bring about real change,” he said.

As for his personal goals, Darron is working towards more outdoor adventures in and around the Noosa, Glasshouse Mountains and Mooloolaba areas, as well as swimming more and attain his scuba diving certificate.

Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.

If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.

You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.