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Tamsin Colley: When you are a Paralympian at 14 years of age 🏃‍♀️🇧🇷🙌

Tamsin is a paralympic athlete who competes in track and field and has Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Tamsin takes Peta through her time and Rio and why sport is so important to her.

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Instagram @petahooke



Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peter. I have cerebral palsy and I love to answer your questions. If you'd like to ask me a question for a future episode of the podcast, you can get in contact with me via Instagram. My handle is at Peter Hook by email. My email address is or via my website This week I have a really interesting guest, Paralympian Tamsin Colley. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Tamsin [00:01:01] Hi. Thanks for having me. I'm Tamsin Colley. I have Cerebral Palsy too and Autism. I'm an Australian Paralympian university student studying exercise physiology.

Peta [00:01:14] You're studying sports science, which is the area probably most people know you for. You were the youngest ever Australian track and field Paralympian in the Rio Games. What was that like?

Tamsin [00:01:28] Yeah. Thanks. It was an amazing experience. I got a late call it up due to the Russians getting excluded from Rio. So I only found out about two weeks before I had to get on the plane. So it was a very rushed and I didn't really have time to process it. So I got on the plane. I celebrated my 14th birthday over there. It was an amazing experience being with so many people with other kinds of disabilities and competing against people. With my classification, which T36 for ambulant atheltes with Cerebral Palsy. So I was on track to do a personal best time, in my 200 meters race when unfortunately I fell over before the line.

Speaker 3 [00:02:12] Was the Paralympic Village very accessible to you? What was it like in the village?

Tamsin [00:02:19] As a person who's recently been diagnosed with autism. I certainly understand where some of my sensory overload moments in the village came from. It was so different from the rest of our lives. Like stuff like ramps and lifts everywhere for all kinds of disabilities. People with all kinds of disabilities to experience the paralympic village. As I said, I didn't really have my autism diagnosis then, so I wasn't really aware of my needs as much, which might be a bad thing. But then there was like a casual dining hall, so we didn't have to go to the main dining hall, which made it yeah, more accessible to us. And as I said, the ramps and stuff for people like me with cerebral palsy who don't use a wheelchair, but like I get fatigued a lot. It was really good to use them to conserve energy for races.

Peta [00:03:19] So did you see much of Rio or did you mainly stay in the village?

Tamsin [00:03:23] I wasn't allowed out of the village until I was finished competing. After my race though I went sightseeing with my mom who flew by to us to watch me compete. We saw the landmarks such as Christ The Redeemer. I remember thinking how different it was from the village with about 2 million stairs get us to the top.

Peta [00:03:43] I often get excited when cities get the Olympics and therefore the Paralympics, because I think hopefully it means that there's more understanding of what accessibility is and making a lot of destinations that are really inaccessible. As you said, all the beautification that happens for the city, I would love to think that they look from an accessibility point of View as well.

Peta [00:04:09] Congratulations on all your achievements in Rio. Just getting there, I think is such a big deal and something you should be really proud of. I know you said you tripped in your heat, but what did that experience teach you? What did you learn from that experience?

Tamsin [00:04:28] Yeah. No, it was like disheartening to like, fall over my race and I've been held back after that from like setting goals myself and stuff due to the fear of falling. My disability Cerebral Palsy, like makes our legs tighten up at the end of race. So it's kind of unavoidable when you're trying that hard.

Peta [00:04:51] So was it difficult to go back to reality and go back to school after the Olympics? What the Paralympics, what was that experience like?

Tamsin [00:05:00] Yeah, it was a bit of a shock to like go back to reality after the the coming up Paralympian, which is something I wouldn't call myself until like a few years later. I had spent my whole life leading up to that point trying to fit in and still struggle to take compliments. If anyone I met was in awe of my achievements, I used to just say, Forget that, I'm a person just like anyone else. I now regret saying that. Also having also fallen over in my race I used to I still do get embarrassed when people ask me how I went. So I think I tried to block it out of my mind, then try to focus on other things for a while afterwards.

Peta [00:05:42] You know, from me sitting here speaking to you today, I think just getting to the Paralympics is such an amazing achievement. Please don't feel like even though the final didn't go the way that you thought it might, it doesn't mean that it's not an amazing achievement, and it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be really proud of yourself.

Peta [00:06:02] In 2017, you were nominated for the Pride of Australia Award for organising the inaugural Eastern Suburbs Special Needs Athletics Carnival. Why is engaging with other people and encouraging people into sport important to you?

Tamsin [00:06:20] Yeah. As part of my school Youth Frontier programme in 2017, I set that ambitious goal of organising, that athletic carnival with my mentor and a few months after I came back from competing overseas in Switzerland. It was so great to see so many kids with a disability having to go to settings and meeting new friends along the way. I absolutely love giving back to the sport. This has helped me so much and witnessing the confidence that being included in sport brings to people with disabilities.

Peta [00:06:57] So you've recently shared that, as we said, that you have an autism diagnosis now. How are you feeling about that?

Tamsin [00:07:06] Yes. I got diagnosed earlier this year and it's still a bit of a shock having found that out to yourself after all your childhood, wondering why you're so different to everyone else. I now know why I have to avoid certain settings like noisy environments and then still learning how to be the most efficient with my brain, with lots of schedules and routines and so on. My only weird feelings about my diagnosis come from how people perceive autism as a bad thing and exclude people that don't fit into the sense of what is normal. With better education and awareness around all kinds of neurodivergent and disabilities, we can make society realise that people that they think of as different conduct, they offer a new perspective and make the world a better place. For many years. I didn't like having a disability at all and would have given everything to blend in with the crowd. But I've grown older. I realise, I don't even like crowds. I'm still a fair way off from fully embracing my disability. I still wish I didn't have one, but more than occasionally but realise there's nothing I can do to change it. Some may as well use what I've got. I am grateful to now be able to do things that some people take for granted, such as talking and learning to walk and run and using my love of sports to inspire other people with disabilities to not let that disability stop them from achieving their goals. I also love how having a disability has opened up opportunities for me, such as being eligible to compete in the Paralympic Games, which with a lot of training and hard work I was able to achieve at a young age. I hope to make this a reality once again in a couple of years and hope to actually stay upright in my race next time.

Peta [00:09:10] Well, I'm sure everybody in Australia will be cheering you on and we do have a bit of time between now and then, so I'll make sure to put your Instagram handle in the description of the podcast so people can follow you and follow your journey towards the next Paralympics. But just so I have we have a balanced conversation. I think it's really important to ask you if there's anything that you don't like about having a disability.

Tamsin [00:09:39] Yeah. My answer to this question would be a lot different if the world was more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities. Because I would say that people's perception of disabilities is one of the hardest things you have to face when you're born with disabilities, as well as this the physical pain and tiredness that my Cerebral Palsy cause me and the sensory overloads that my Autism causes me are some of the not so great things about having a disability, especially when they stop you from doing the things you love.

Peta [00:10:13] So what do you hope will be like to have a disability in the future?

Tamsin [00:10:19] The Paralympic Village is a great example of what I hope it would look like in the future, for people with disabilities. Everyone has some kind of disability, so no one thinks twice about it when you walk or act differently to other people. It's just another physical difference like hair colour and so on. And I wish people would realise that people with disabilities still have potential like the rest of us. It's so great to see all the efforts taken recently to accept and include people with disabilities such as the Paralympic movement and adaptive fashion runways and so on. We still have a way to go as a society and with more things like this podcast, raising awareness of what it is like to have a disability, people will hopefully include us more in society.

Peta [00:11:10] I'm so pleased you had a positive experience at the Paralympics. I can't wait to see what you do next.

Tamsin [00:11:17] Thank you.

Peta [00:11:20] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If you know of someone that you think would be great on the podcast, please let me know. Or tag them on social media. I'm all about making sure we have a full representation of what it is to be disabled on this podcast. If you did enjoy the podcast, can I encourage you to leave in writing and review on Apple Podcasts or share me on social media? It'll help small people find the podcast. So until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye.


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