A javelin world champion has thrown in her lot with Sydney Hills Special Olympics by assisting with the new basketball program at Hills Grammar School in Kenthurst – from her wheelchair!

Year 12 HGS student Julie Charlton competed in last year’s IWAS[i] Under 23 World Games in Prague, where she won gold in the javelin, silver in the discus and bronze in the shotput events, as well as competing in four track races.  The gifted athlete was born with spina bifida, a debilitating condition that would depress most sufferers, yet not only has she risen above her affliction, she says that “without it my life would have been pretty mundane”. Julie plays basketball regularly with her friends and has even taken the students from her class to Mount Druitt to play wheelchair basketball.

“I want to make a difference,” the articulate 17-year-old says. “I want to do public speaking that tells business that disability isn’t scary. Whether it’s autism or being in a wheelchair doesn’t matter. We (disabled people) can work as hard or harder than non-disabled people.” To hone her public speaking skills she has joined the Sydney Theatre Company’s Young Wharfies Team, travelling into Walsh Bay every Monday for acting lessons.

Julie is ably assisted by fellow Year 12 student and netballer Lauren Farrell, who was encouraged to volunteer by both Julie and her mother, who works in the disability field. Two of the basketballers – Nicholas Tresso and Matthew Tang – are special needs students at Hills Grammar. Their coach is university student Peter Walshe, 20, from Cherrybrook, who transferred to Hills Grammar from the existing program at Castle Hill High in Term Four last year.

Peter is in his third year of studying Exercise and Health Science at the Australian Catholic University, and has been playing basketball since he was seven. “We’re very grateful to Hills Grammar for making its facilities available to us, and of course to Julie and Lauren for their assistance, Special Olympics Sydney Hills Club President Kelly Duncan says.There are 12 young athletes with an intellectual disability playing basketball currently at Hills Grammar, and according to SO Regional Co-ordinator Wayne Lever there is space for “a few” more. Contact Wayne on 0417 206 755 for more info

[i] International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation