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Madison de Rozario on how Parasport taught her to love her ‘perfect’ body

Madison de Rozario admits she “disliked” her body growing up. When she became a six-time medalist at the Paralympics – and had a Barbie doll designed in her honor – she realized she was perfect just the way she is.

“When I discovered wheelchair racing, for the first time in my life I discovered a world that was really made for me by people who look like me,” said the Australian athlete.

“This body, which I resented a little bit because it wasn’t my idea of ​​perfect as I was told, was suddenly perfect for wheelchair racing. Everything I didn’t like about it was suddenly needed for this sport and I’ve come to love my body through everything this sport has put me through.”

traces and mirrors

De Rozario was four years old when she contracted transverse myelitis, a neurological condition that caused inflammation of her spinal cord and left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Adjusting to the new body wasn’t easy for de Rozario, and while she tried a few wheelchair sports to get a feel for it, it wasn’t an instant success either.

She tried her hand at wheelchair basketball and tennis before turning to wheelchair racing in 2006. However, their success rate didn’t improve much after the move.

De Rozario tried several wheelchair sports before settling on racing. @Alex Pantling/Getty Images

When her mother saw the teenager struggling with her racing chair, she told her she could quit the sport, but de Rozario stubbornly persevered.

That stubbornness paid off as just two years later, de Rozario made her Paralympic debut in Beijing. At 14, she was the youngest athlete in the Australian delegation.

Her trip to China was not just for experience either: she won silver in the women’s 4x100m T53/54 relay.

At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, de Rozario finished just short of the podium in four races. Four years later, she won her first individual medal, silver in the women’s 800m T53, in addition to silver in the women’s 4 x 400m T53/54 relay.

She became Paralympic Champion at Tokyo 2020 after winning her signature women’s 800m T53 race, followed by another win in the women’s T54 marathon. She also took bronze in the women’s 1500m T54.

In addition to her Paralympic gear, de Rozario has won multiple medals at World Championships and Commonwealth Games, Grand Prix and prestigious marathons.

With training and racing came a new appreciation for her body.

“It’s not just about achievements, not just achievements or world titles or something, but who made it possible for me to become,” de Rozario said.

“The greatest impact that sport can have on and for people with disabilities is in learning to reclaim and own your physical self,” she added. “When you’re asking your body as much as the sport is asking you, whether it’s at the Paralympic level, at an elite level, or on a grassroots participation basis, it doesn’t matter if you’re physically demanding something of your body, you have to have that love and.” this respect for it.”

Madison de Rozario was one of several Paralympic athletes to be honored with a Barbie doll made in her likeness. @Mattel

Model for the new generation

After falling in love with her body thanks to sport, being honored with a personalized Barbie doll was the icing on the cake for the Australian racer.

In 2020, de Rozario was among several athletes who had dolls designed in her image. Her doll came complete with a racing wheelchair and was unveiled on International Women’s Day.

And just as thousands of children around the world are picking up Barbie dolls to play with, de Rozario hopes they will learn a sport like her.

“If you want to get into any sport, start! Find anything and it will move on from there,” she said.

“Me and everyone I know, we’ve tried so many things. We failed at so many things. I think even as a top athlete you fail enough to succeed. That’s how sports work. That’s how it all works. And that’s 100 percent okay. Lean into these failures. Try everything and everyone until you find something you love.”

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