Indigenous Achievements at the Paralympics

The 2021 Tokyo Paralympics saw a wonderful representation of Indigenous culture and athletes within the games across 539 events and 22 sports. Representing the Indigenous Australian community was Amanda Reid, Samantha Schmidt and Ruby Storm. The Paralympics celebrated Australia’s Indigenous heritage through beautiful First Nations designed uniforms. In their uniforms, Reid, Schmidt and Storm proudly represented their country and communities by wearing artwork that paid homage to their heritage and culture (NIT, 2021).

The Journey by Yuin woman Rheanna Lotter. Courtesy of Paralympics Australia, 2020.

At the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, the Indigenous artwork featured on the uniforms made its big debut. The title of the artwork The Journey really speaks for itself as the connection lines in the design represents each teammate's athletic journey. In an interview with NIT (2021) proud Yuin woman and artist Rheanna Lotter explained that the individuality of each circle represents the diversity of the team (Paralympics Australia, 2021).

“We represented all the states and territories of Australia and connected them all through our connection lines. Then we had the boomerangs which are represented as a hunting boomerang,” said Lotter, explaining to NIT (2021) the symbolism behind the motifs in the artwork.

A core part of the Paralympic Games mission is changing community perceptions of people with disabilities. The First Nations women involved in this year’s Paralympics events all achieved such incredible results. For Wemba Wemba and Kuring-gai para-athlete Amanda Reid, being able to wear this artwork that embraced individuality was a proud moment:

“As an Aboriginal person, it’s amazing to wear a piece of Aboriginal art designed by an Aboriginal person. It means inclusion too – it is celebrating Indigenous culture by bringing the team all together. As one, as a Mob,” said Reid excitedly to NIT (2021).

Gold medalist Amanda Reid after winning the Women’s C1-2-3 500m time trial on day three of the Tokyo Paralympic Games at Izu Velodrome. Courtesy of Getty Images, 2021.

Amanda Reid broke her own record and won gold for Australia in track cycling. Reid’s journey to the top of para-cycling has been remarkable. She is a three-time paralympian who actually switched her sport from swimming. At the London Games in 2012, Reid represented Australia as a finalist in the 100m breaststroke, and then in Rio she won silver in the velodrome event. To Reid, representing her community means everything and she hopes to encourage more Indigenous disabled athletes to enter the sport (The Guardian, 2021).

Ruby Storm competed in the Women’s 100m butterfly where she won bronze. Photo credit: AAP/Delly Carr. Courtesy of The Young Witness, 2021.

For proud Wakawaka and Gubbi Gubbi woman Samantha Schmidt, this was her first time competing in the Paralympics. The 19 year old competed in discus where she threw a distance of 30.26m - a great result under the trying circumstances of pouring rain. At just 17 years of age, First Nations woman Ruby Storm also did incredibly well at the games. As a part of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay she won silver, and in the women’s 100m butterfly she came home with bronze. Storm truly made some incredible achievements for such a young athlete (SBS, 2021).

We would like to extend a huge congratulations to the Indigenous Paralympians that represented Australia this year. It is wonderful to see these First Nations women gaining the recognition they deserve and having the opportunity to share their culture with the world. Amanada Reid, Ruby Storm and Samantha Schmidt are a true inspiration for both young Indigenous Australians and young disabled people.