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Secrets of success

Secrets of successA medal winning Paralympic athlete, fine artist and sports ambassador for disability charity CBM, Elizabeth Wright has overcome her disability to achieve her dreams. Read on for her inspiring story, and top tips for success no matter what life puts in your way.

Can you tell us a bit about your life so far?

I was born in 1979 with Congenital Limb Deficiency. This means that I was born without part of my right arm and right leg and other mild deformities. This, however, has not stopped me from achieving in life. I attended mainstream schools and was academically equal with my peers. I also found that I could swim quite well and could compete against my able-bodied schoolmates successfully. This led me to seriously consider swimming as a chance to achieve something special – I ended up competing at two Paralympic Games for Australia, winning medals at both. I retired from swimming after the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and then undertook an undergraduate degree which has led to a fulfilling academic career and motivational speaking career. I am now living in the UK studying for a PhD in fine art.

What were the Paralympics like?

My first Paralympic Games were in Atlanta in 1996. I was only 16 and it was my first time overseas, so I was really nervous. It was an amazing experience, to be a part of something so big and be part of an elite team. To swim amongst the best in the world was a challenge, but I knew I just had to do my best. I achieved many personal bests and came out of with a bronze medal in the 50m Butterfly. My second, and last, Paralympic games were in Sydney in 2000. This was an extra special games as I was competing in front of my home crowd, friends, and family. I won a silver medal in the 400m Freestyle and a bronze in the 4 x 50m relay. I retired after Sydney because I had reached my sporting goals and felt satisfied with all that I had achieved. The Paralympics were a personal mountain to climb, a chance to prove that my disability could not stop me from achieving what I wanted out of life, and provided me with almost a decade of confidence and self esteem building in a positive oriented way. I’ve used my experiences as a Paralympic athlete to become a sports ambassador for CBM.

What does being a sports ambassador involve?

I aim to utilise the upcoming Paralympic Games as a platform for promoting CBM. They are a wonderful charity that go into developing nations and find and aid those with disabilities to improve their lives (both medically and socially). I have attended quite a few sporting events for CBM already and will continue to do so up until the 2012 Paralympic Games and maybe beyond.

Why did you choose art after sport?

My undergraduate and masters degrees are in Fine Art. I have a lifelong interest in art: I remember I always had a sketchbook on me to draw whenever I had an opportunity as a child. On reflecting what I wanted out of life after finishing swimming, I knew that I had to follow my heart and that if I worked hard enough than I could make any opportunity mine. I am currently on leave from my PhD, as I am pursuing my speaking career and also my work with CBM. 

Has your sporting career helped your academic studies?

I find that my entire swimming career has set me up to achieve for the rest of my life. When you are a swimmer, discipline to train and race becomes ingrained as you set out to achieve your goals. This discipline is something that I have bought into the rest of my life. I know already that hard work pays off and therefore apply this to my academic side of life. This sense of discipline is easily transferable: it is a matter of applying the same goal setting and goal planning to my academic work.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Never give up! I cannot ever imagine giving up on my dreams or not trusting that I will end up where I am meant to be. We can be in the darkest of places, but you have to remember that there is always a way out, you just have to believe in yourself.

Elizabeth’s essential steps to success 

  • Set goals! Always set a major goal and then break this down into mini goals, to make the bigger goal seem more achievable.
  • Reward yourself when you reach a mini goal, e.g. you complete reading a text book for your English class, take a 15 minute break and let yourself listen to some music, or have a chocolate bar.
  • Listen to your heart! You can trust yourself and your own intuition – don’t follow the crowd. If you have a dream career, go for it, you can succeed!
  • Ask for help! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. If you are not sure how to do that maths problem, or how to get into a career in the circus, you are not dumb if you ask for help . . . you are very smart!
  • Remind yourself daily of your ultimate goal! Daydream, write, draw about your goal. To keep you motivated you have to keep the dream alive.
  • Know that you can achieve! Know that no matter what your circumstances in life you can finish school, get into uni, or get that job, because if you can show people you are willing to work, and you are open to opportunity, you can achieve.

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