Rachael swims her way to the top
Para-swimmer world record holder, gold medallist and triplet Rachael Watson is a true example of hard work and persistence paying dividends.
Swimming at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Rachael won gold in the 50m Freestyle and set a new Paralympic record.
She then did it again five years later at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, winning back-to-back gold in the same event.
“This is absolutely amazing and something I never imagined would be possible; it feels absolutely incredible,” Rachael says.
“It means a lot to me personally as it takes a lot of effort to swim and people don’t always realise what exactly goes into that.”
“It’s not as simple as just swimming in the pool as there can be times in training where progress is slow and the end result will be unpredictable because of varying factors.
“To achieve the results I have, it just makes it totally worth it for myself and the people who directly help me.”
Rachael lived with mild cerebral palsy up until her early 20s, which at that time meant she was independent and able to walk unaided.
At 21, she acquired a rare neurological disorder, which caused muscle weakness and paralysis. This resulted in her needing to use a wheelchair and get assistance with daily living.
“It’s been a huge change to my life,” Rachael says.
“Aside from that, even though it is difficult with the wheelchair, I absolutely love travel and I have a huge soft spot for dogs.”
Rachael’s para-swimming journey started with rehabilitation, which she says she really enjoyed.
“Once I relearnt how to swim, I started sessions with a coach who then helped me work towards my goals,” Rachael says.
“At the beginning, the Paralympics wasn’t even a thought. The swimming was purely to get stronger functionally.”
When she’s not in the pool, Rachael volunteers with the Children’s Hospital Foundation and takes part in numerous committees dedicated to improving health outcomes for people with disability.
She also holds a degree in early childhood education and mentors athletes with disability who have physical impairments and are just beginning their swimming journey.
Her own journey and passion for advocating for people with disability has resulted in Rachael being selected as one of this year’s International Day of People with Disability Ambassadors, to help raise awareness about this important day and give back to her community.
“International Day of People with Disability not only celebrates the achievements of people with disability but it also creates awareness for the public to understand the issues surrounding disability,” Rachael says
“This is the most important purpose of this day, as once we have awareness we can then create conversation and make positive change to rectify the issues affecting people with disability.”
“Inclusion means giving people with disability the same opportunity as their able-bodied peers and this means integrating, not separating people.
“Inclusion should be so well done that it’s not even noticeable and it becomes the norm.”