The La Trobe Elite Athlete Program (LEAP) member, who has overcome significant odds just to represent Australia in the pool, won the hearts of the nation by securing the silver medal in the Men’s SM3 150m Individual Medley final in Tokyo on Saturday night.
Swimming in lane five, the 29-year-old was in fifth at the 50m mark of the race but flew home in the final 100m to finish with a time of 3:02.23 in second behind Mexico’s Jesus Hernandez Hernandez. Fellow Australian Grant Patterson finished the race in third.
Speaking after the race to Channel 7, Kelly said it was a case of third time lucky in his pursuit for a Paralympic medal.
“It took me three goes to get on that dais, but I’m finally on it - to get silver, I’m pretty happy,” Kelly said.
Best mates winning silver and bronze together ❤️— 7Sport (@7Sport) August 28, 2021
Absolutely inspirational. It's been years in the making, but Ahmed Kelly and Grant Patterson finish on the Paralympian podium together for the first time. #Tokyo2020 | https://t.co/eoBbkNzJS1 pic.twitter.com/Ln0fdRN1M9
“I wanted gold, but we’ll take silver. I knew from the morning (heats) I had a lot more to give; it was more about making sure the pace was right on the first lap and not overdoing it. Breaststroke is one of my strengths, so I just really tried to get to the other end as quickly as I could and then with fly (Butterfly) come home with whatever I had left.
“The last 15 metres I was stinging, but (competing at the) Paralympic Games with the whole world watching and my family at home watching, I just wanted to do everybody proud.”
For those not familiar with Kelly’s story, it can best be described as inspirational. Before he was a Paralympian, Kelly was living in an orphanage in Baghdad in Iraq with his brother Emmanuel. As the age of seven, Kelly and his brother were adopted by humanitarian worker Moira Kelly, who brought them to Australia in the hopes of providing them with a better life.
Both brothers had been born with a congenital limb deficiency, and in Ahmed's case, he later had surgery to remove both his legs below the knees.
Not to be deterred from achieving his sporting dreams, Kelly initially fell in love with Australian Rules Football and inspired many with his ferocious attack on the ball. He then discovered Para-swimming and has since gone on to become an accomplished Para-swimmer who has represented his country at the London (2012), Rio (2016) and now Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
While podium placings eluded him in London and Rio, Kelly set the platform for his Tokyo Paralympics silver medal last September in the same event at the World Para-swimming Championships, where he won his first major international medal (also a silver).
Outside of the pool, Kelly has been a long-standing member of the LEAP program and will shortly wrap up the final subjects of his Bachelor of Arts course at La Trobe.
Kelly is one of four LEAP members that are representing Australia at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, along with fellow swimmer Emily Beecroft (Bachelor of Arts), Bree Mellberg (Wheelchair Basketball, PhD) and Jeremy Tyndall (Wheelchair Basketball, Bachelor of Education - Primary).
You can find the competition times of our LEAP athletes and follow them on their Paralympic Games journey via the La Trobe Sport website.