Transcript

Paralympic Dreams with Chris Mullins

4 September 2008

chris-mullinsChris Mullins

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 10.5 Mb].

Mikhaela:

Welcome the La Trobe University Podcast. For the first time, ABC2 will be televising the entire Paralympics program from September 6 to 17. It is extremely exciting for the Paralympics team, which includes La Trobe University Nursing student Christ Mullins, who will be competing in the mens 100, 200, 400 and 4X100 athletic events. He says the increased popularity of the Paralympics is also changing society's perceptions of disability. He is here to talk to us about his inspiring path from being born with Cerebral Palsy to becoming an elite sportsman.

Mikhaela:

Tell us a little bit about the sport that you're involved with.

Chris:

Well I've been involved in athletics, this will be, coming up in October will be my 17th season that I've been in athletics.

Mikhaela:

And you're only what, 22?

Chris:

Nearly 22, yeah. So about 80% of my life has been dedicated to athletics, from under 6 at little athletics. I've loved every minute of it. The reason I got into athletics was because of my physiotherapist at the Royal Children's Hospital. She suggested that I go into athletics just as a form of getting me off the couch, obviously with my disability cerebral palsy, it's a brain injury so it affects my muscles and my nerves and how I function. It enabled me to activate all those muscles and nerves and get out there and have fun and make new friends along the way as well. With the athletics program in Beijing there's going to be quite a number of events available for athletes across all disabilities, whether it's my disability cerebral palsy or amputees of the leg or the arms. Vision impaired athletes and athletes who are quadriplegics and paraplegics. Yeah, I think Australia's going to go into the games probably the second ranked nation in the world, in the Paralympics athletics scene.

Mikhaela:

That's a nice position to be in.

Chris:

It certainly is, unfortunately the top team will be China though, so they're going to have a massive advantage with a huge home crowd support! We're going in there quietly confident that we can consolidate our second position on the medal tally which will be a terrific achievement.

Mikhaela:

Fantastic. Has it really hit you that you're going, or will it take you to stand in Beijing for you to realise ‘Oh my God, it's the Olympics'? Because you're probably training heaps now and really busy, too busy to really comprehend it all, I guess.

Chris:

That's true, for the past five weeks I've been training twice a day, seven days a week. Takes up quite a fair bit of time especially the past couple of weeks where I've been back at uni for a couple of days, that makes it even more difficult. But I haven't really had a lot of time to think about it. I'll take it one day at a time, get through the training sessions and then I can worry about Beijing. But I've been told by a lot of old timers who are going to their sixth Paralympics this year, there are quite a few of them, and they've told me ‘Chris, once you put on that uniform and once you set foot on the tarmac in Beijing, that's when you can say you've made it, you're a paralympian.

Mikhaela:

Chris, can you tell me a little bit about your training regime?

Chris:

Yes, I've been travelling twice a day, seven days a week for the past four to five weeks, but heading into Beijing for the past couple of years I've been training extremely hard. What my training consists of is five to six running sessions a week, three to four sessions in the water, and on top of that another four to five gym sessions, ranging on whether I'm cycling or doing weights or other things like that, so it is full on but I enjoy it. It keeps me fit and healthy and keeps the brain ticking over and fresher. When I go into a lecture at university I'm alert!

Mikhaela:

Okay so can you tell me what you're doing at university?

Chris:

Yes, I'm currently going towards the end of my second year with the bachelor of nursing degree so I'm thoroughly enjoying it at the moment. I went to an all boys school, St Bernard's college in Essendon and I remember the first day walking into my first tute and I was the only guy in the tute and it was a complete culture shock to me, because obviously at St. Bernard's we didn't get to deal with a lot of female colleagues unless we went down to the Essendon station and met up with the St. Columba's girls or any other girl schools around the area. But I'm loving it, and I'm fortunate enough to have a good group of friends and support network here.

Mikhaela:

How do you combine your training regime, which is pretty intense, and university which is quite demanding anyway, and you also have a part time job.

Chris:

That's correct, I'm a life guard at the Maribinyong aquatic centre next to the highpoint shopping centre. It is hard, multitasking everything in my life, but I find it a good challenge, and obviously I've got to have good organisational skills, and I've been fortunate enough to have a great support network at the Victorian Institute of Sport at the Athletes Career and Communication Program. They've enabled me to seek extensions on assignments or reschedule labs or stuff like that.

Mikhaela:

Can you tell us what it feels like to win gold?

Chris:

Yeah, getting up on that podium at the winners podium with my teammates, seeing the Australian flag go up that pole, it was quite emotional, I actually don't want to admit this, but I did shed a few tears! Yeah it was a terrific moment in my life and my family's life. They were fortunate enough to via the internet see the race, so I don't know how many times I've replayed that race and that ceremony post the games, but it's definitely a moment that I'll cherish for the rest of my life.

Mikhaela:

What's the general public response that paralympians get?

Chris:

Everytime I go and meet a new person and some of my mates they always seem to drop the line that Chris is on the Australian team, and when they ask me I go I'm part of the Paralympic team. I think that you might get a bit of a bagging or they might crack a few jokes but generally everyone is so interested because there's not a lot known about it. I think it can be sort of an educational tool to help them understand what it's all about and to sort of promote it a bit more and saying that this is what's going to be happening with Paralympics. So it does help, and the Australian Paralympic Committee have run a few days. Like on the hundred days to go before Beijing they ran an event down in Olympic Park in Melbourne where they had some Australian Rules footballers compete against the athletes in certain disciplines on the track and there were school kids involved there and they got to watch and participate.

Mikhaela:

How did that all run?

Chris:

It was terrific, I was fortunate enough to view it, I wasn't involved with it, it even helped I think the AFL boys who have got quite big egos and couldn't care less about anything other than their own sport, because they got beaten in the events I think it sort of-

Mikhaela:

They got beaten?

Chris:

They got beaten in running or weightlifting or whatever so-

Mikhaela:

And did that change their perspective of paralympians by the end of the day? Were they more-

Chris:

Most definitely, I think the AFL boys were a bit scared and put back into their own place.

Mikhaela:

So I guess it's interesting that the Paralympic Committee and people involved really have quite a unique platform to educate the community about disability.

Chris:

Yeah, most definitely, we're pretty much the main branch that promote that movement because a lot of people view disability as someone who's bound in a wheelchair or in a nursing home or something. They don't see them as being active or out in the community trying to make a difference so I think we should be a launching pad for people with disabilities to try and make a success of themselves within the community.

Mikhaela:

Who inspires you?

Chris:

Quite a few people inspire me. One person on the Paralympic team, his name is Heath Francis, I was fortunate enough to witness him as a spectator at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic games over the 200 and 400 metre event for arm amputees and he won gold medals. Then in 2006 I got to be on the same team at the world championships with Heath and I started talking to him and telling him all this and I think he was pretty excited and fortunately enough last year we got to room with each other at a couple of camps so that was great to room with your idols and everything. Another person who does inspire me is James Hird. I know he's a footballer, I'm a massive Essendon fan, but I think all the achievements he's had in his footballer career and all the adversity he came over with all those horrific injuries… if he can get over that with his ageing body, anyone can get over it, and I think he's a very well spoken person, he's very intelligent, he is, compared with a lot of other people involved in AFL football, he's definitely as an able bodied athlete, the one I'd most look up to.

Mikhaela:

What is it that makes you get up in the morning and stay motivated and on track?

Chris:

Definitely at the end of the day looking at… I get to go overseas, I get to meet new people which is a great thing. It increases my social network and my friends network, obviously staying fit and healthy, I don't want to be one who dies young or ends up in a home or a rehabilitation service at a young age. It also enables me to get out there and promote the paralympic movement because it's improving but there's still a lot to be made in terms of that. But I think definitely going overseas and-

Mikhaela:

Being able to achieve all those goals.

Chris:

Exactly, yeah, that's the number one thing that would get me out of bed every morning to do my training.

Mikhaela:

So you work, you go to uni, and you obviously train for the Olympics. What do you do to unwind? Do you go out, do you hit the town, am I going to get you in trouble with your coach if I ask you this…

Chris:

No, that's fine, I love to catch up with my mates, whether it's going to the football, going to the movies, or even just going out and not having a drink, I haven't had a drink in five months now. But I still love to go out and enjoy myself. I'm fortunate enough to have a great network of friends from here at La Trobe uni in the nursing faculty, to my days as a boy from St. Bernard's and obviously the athletics club. Without those people involved in my life I don't think that I'd be as successful as I am today because they're the ones who give me the support and they're the motivating factors in what I do and try to do to the best of my abilities.

Mikhaela:

Well thankyou so much for talking to us today, Chris. Good luck at Beijing, I don't think you'll need it, but we'll look forward to tracking your competition and events and hopefully we'll see you win gold.

Chris:

Thankyou Mikhaela, I appreciate it.

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