By Mikayla van Loon
For one Lilydale primary school student, winning bronze for shot put at the School Sport Victoria state championships was more than just a medal.
St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School Grade 5 student Lilly was born vision impaired with a condition called nystagmus, a condition where the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, meaning she was often told she couldn’t play sport.
“It’s a pretty big deal to me. When I was in Grade 2 I got told I couldn’t play tag with other people and got told I couldn’t do something because of my vision,” she said.
“Now I feel like I’m showing them I can do something, I want to do it. I guess to me it’s a way of saying ‘I can do it, you shouldn’t have told me I couldn’t do something’ just because I had a visual impairment.”
Only starting shot put at the end of last term, with special training from her teacher Dave Gallacher, Lilly practised at home when she could to prepare for the school athletics competition.
From there she went onto the divisional competition, where she made regionals and eventually the state tournament in the under 11 multiclass category where she travelled to Lakeside Stadium in Albert Park.
Lilly’s state appearance was her best performance yet, scoring a personal best of nearly 4.5 metres.
“You’re really nervous because when you stand back, they obviously measure the throw and when you look, it doesn’t seem that far. It really only looks like a couple of centimetres but when they measure it, and then make it fair for me, it goes really far,” Lilly said.
Having to learn the techniques and skill of shot put, Lilly said it is actually quite difficult, more than people may think.
“It’s a lot harder than you really think. It’s not just throwing a ball. It’s a very heavy ball to start off with. It’s like a two kilogram ball that you’re throwing and it’s very strict rules.
“You can’t really throw it, otherwise you would instantly get out. So it’s all in the movement you do to push it from your hand to the ground.”
Lilly’s mum Rachel said shot put too provides a sensory element, with the ball needing to touch the competitor’s neck before launching.
Competing in the multiclass category, Rachel said it was all extremely comfortable and accessible for Lilly.
“It really felt like she was with people with the same ability to make it fair,” she said.
“They just put a few things in place, so she had her [learning support officer] standing at the end in hi-vis just to help with the direction, which [gave her] that opportunity to have some success.”
Despite Lilly not knowing anything different to her sometimes blurred vision, Rachel said “she manages beautifully, sometimes you forget” but seeing her be so supported by the school and her classmates and to go on to achieve a bronze medal was incredible as a mum too.
“That’s everything, that gives your child that equal opportunity to have success and thrive and just to build that self confidence and that self esteem so she knows ‘I can do something and I can achieve big things’.
“So you don’t let that disability stop you from doing anything. It actually opens up a whole new world. You can do everything just like everybody else, just with a few adjustments in place.
“It just helps with her growth and development, knowing that you can achieve and have success, even with a disability.”
After state, Lilly was also awarded with her very own shot put by her parents, so she can continue challenging herself and practising at home, ready for next year’s School Sport Victoria competition.