Growing up in a world designed for abled bodied people has had a profound impact on Paralympic swimming hopeful Noah, who was born with a limb difference.
“We had this school excursion that taught kids about the impact of crash accidents to help us understand more about the impacts of drink driving,” said the 20-year-old Gold Coaster.
“There was an activity where you had to pretend one of your arms was in a sling and you had to do everything one-handed.
“I absolutely smashed it. As other students were attempting to do things with one arm, half of my year level looked over at me and were like ‘oh my god, is this what it’s like for you every day?’
“It was also pretty funny to watch because some of them struggled to unbutton a shirt with one hand.”
The Oxenford local was supported by Carers Queensland to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2018. The Scheme funds a prosthesis and some of Noah’s physiotherapy sessions.
From an early age Noah noticed how inaccessible his surroundings were. But instead of seeing barriers, Noah worked hard to adapt so he never missed an opportunity or experience.
“You just have to think about it differently. And I guess since I'm always thrown in that situation it was never a case of me thinking I can’t do that; it was more how can I do it?,” he said.
Noah says he wasn’t overly aware or concerned about his limb deficiency as a child and kept forgetting about it.
“I can say that I was pretty lucky with the people I was surrounded by, they were always very inclusive,” he said.
“My friends never saw a difference, but at the same time it's because I was doing a lot of things normally with them, including football and swimming.”
Noah thinks his high-level problem-solving skills, and ability to undertake complex actions with one hand, is why he was drawn to a particular subject at university.
“I think that's why I enjoy studying Industrial Design (at Griffith University) so much, because I’m so used to looking for a solution,” he said.
“And being left-handed I’ve also discovered that everything is designed for a right-handed person, particularly power tools.
“Now instead of thinking things could be better, I think about how I could be better and that’s made me better at life in general.”
The self-confessed water baby started nippers when he was 6 and by the age of 9, he’d won his first gold medal in a state championship. Swimming lessons boosted his confidence levels and fuelled his desire to compete.
“Swimming has never felt like a chore. I always wanted to be around the water whether it was surfing at the beach or being the pool,” he said.
Before taking two years off competitive swimming, Noah made the development team for 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, a step down from the senior team.
This year Noah’s back in the pool with a vengeance and in August competed at the Queensland State Short Course Championships where he won an impressive haul of medals; 2 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze.
He’s now preparing for states in December, this will be a meet to develop some teams going into the Olympics year next year.
“I think a realistic goal for me is making the Commonwealth Games in 2026 and then the following Paralympic Games in LA in 2028,” Noah said.
The quietly spoken athlete is keen to take part in the next Duel in the Pool, a competitive stoush between Australian and American swimmers that’s just opened a category for para swimmers.
Noah also wants sponsors to throw their support and money around para swimmers, who are under supported and underfunded at an elite level.
“For Rio 2016 Olympics, the whole Paralympic team had to fundraise to get themselves over there,” he said.
“Tokyo 2020 was the first Paralympics where swimmers were funded by Swimming Australia, which is crazy when you think about it.”
In between swimming and studying, Noah works at local theme park Movie World. But getting an interview wasn’t easy.
“When I removed from my resume that I was missing half an arm, the replies came rolling in,’ he said. “I knew I had the qualifications and skill set I just needed someone to give me a chance.
“And once they (potential employers) see me and actually get to speak to me, their mindset just changes.”
In addition to encouraging employers to be more open-minded, Noah would like to see more disability awareness or acknowledgement in schools.
“It's not until you actually have someone in your class that has a disability that you learn about it. I probably taught a lot of the students about disability,” he said.
“It’s not something that people don't want to not know it's just simply like they don't teach it and so people are just sort of ignorant about it.”
Noah, who recently treated himself to a glow in the dark tattoo on his arm, is also turning heads on social media for posting “crazy workout videos” of himself.
“It’s something my physiotherapist got me into,” he said.
“You probably won’t see these tricks anywhere else because they look dangerous for a lot of people, but it works for me because I do things differently.
“Like I might be able to hook something around my arm that someone else might not do because it's just going to throw them completely off balance.”
So don’t be surprised if you see Noah’s name splashed across headlines within the next few years, the sky – and the pool – is the limit for this up-and-coming young athlete.
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.
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