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Paralympians give positive message and advice

Swimmers Ellie Cole and Matt Haanappel are proof of the positive impact the Paralympics can have on young lives.

MARC MCGOWAN February 20, 2013 4:05am

London Paralympics gold medallists Matt Haanappel (middle, blue shirt) and Ellie Cole (back, green shirt) visited Aquamoves on Monday night.


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Swimmers Ellie Cole and Matt Haanappel are proof of the positive impact the Paralympics can have on young lives.

Cole, who had her right leg amputated at the age of three due to having a rare form of cancer called sarcoma, was just 16 when she went to the Beijing Games as a self-confessed ‘‘wide-eyed’’ teenager.

It was much the same for 18-year-old Croydon Hills resident Haanappel, who has cerebral palsy, when he experienced the Paralympics for the first time at London last year.

Frankston’s Cole — wiser for her debut — returned last year as a senior team member and added four gold and two bronze medals to the silver and two bronze she claimed at Beijing.

They took part in Goulburn Valley’s inter-district training at Shepparton’s Aquamoves on Monday night before speaking to the swimmers about their experiences.

‘‘There’s a quote I’ve always lived by: ‘It’s better to get a sore neck from aiming too high than a hunchback from aiming too low’,’’ Cole said.

‘‘Something that’s been really important to me in my career is goal-setting. You should have big goals, but keep them realistic.

‘‘That’s definitely the advice I would give. Just don’t go with the flow, actually have goals and dreams and things to strive for.’’

Cole, the Sarah-Grace Sarcoma Foundation patron, spent the three years leading into the London Games training at Australian Institute of Sport’s Canberra base.

‘‘I went to London with a lot more experience under my belt, a bit more determination and a bit more race tactics,’’ she said.

‘‘The games wasn’t such a shock to me the second time around.’’

Haanappel was unable to quite describe the ‘‘amazing experience’’ he had at London, where he was a heat swimmer for Australia’s gold medal-winning 4x100m freestyle relay and bronze medal-winning 4x100m medley relay teams.

‘‘To be in front of 10000 people, you can’t explain it,’’ Haanappel said.

‘‘It was my first experience at Paralympic level or a major level of competition and what other 18-year-olds are doing stuff like that?

‘‘It was a life lesson for me, not just for my swimming. I’ve come back and been able to teach the other Year 12 students in my cohort that there are other things out there in life.’’

Haanappel, who swims for Diamond Valley-Eltham Aquatic, trained up to 20 hours a week to qualify for London.

He set high goals, just like Kings Swimming Club member Cole, and put his Year 12 studies on hold until this year to achieve his Paralympic dream.

‘‘To get out there and get the boys into the final was a massive learning experience for me,’’ Haanappel said.

‘‘To be there and selected not only in the Australian Paralympic team, but an Australian relay at my age and classification — S6 — it has never been done before.

‘‘It was an honour to be part of those relays.’’

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