'I love my disability': Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott

Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott's named 2022 Australian of the Year

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The 31-year-old is preparing for an Australian Open finals on Thursday.

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Decorated athlete Dylan Alcott added to his lengthy list of achievements on Tuesday, when he was named 2022 Australian of the Year.

He is the first person with a disability to win the award in its 62-year history.

Dylan Alcott has won three Paralympic gold medals in two sports; a golden slam; a Logie; an Order of Australia medal; and a world record.

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott. Picture: Keegan Carroll

What started off as self-deprecating acceptance speech, turned very emotional as Mr Alcott talked about "hating" himself because of his disability.

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"I've been in a wheelchair my whole life," he said.

"I've known nothing but having a disability, and I'm honest with you, I cannot tell you how much I used to hate myself. I used to hate having a disability ... I hated being different.

"I didn't want to be here anymore. I really didn't. And whenever I turned on the TV, or the radio or the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me. And whenever I did, it was a road safety ad where someone drink drives, has a car accident. And what's the next scene? Someone like me, in tears, because their life was over."

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott with partner Chantelle Otten. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott with partner Chantelle Otten. Picture: Keegan Carroll

He said with the support of his family, partner Chantelle Otten and sport he now has a different perspective on life.

"I love my disability, it is the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.

"I'm the luckiest guy in this country, literally."

Mr Alcott called for free rapid antigen tests, and greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Mr Alcott was awarded one of Australia's most prestigious honours only days away from trying to take home his final Australian Open title; after which he plans to retire from wheelchair tennis.

He said despite hearing the Australian of the Year after-party was one of the best, he wouldn't be able to attend as he would be trying to win the Australian Open in 36 hours.

"I really hope I make you proud out there," he said, choking up.

"But winning grand slams and gold medals isn't my purpose.

"My purpose is changing perceptions, so people with disabilities, people like me, can get out there and live the lives that they deserve to live."

Tennis champion Dylan Alcott has been named 2022 Australian of the Year. Picture: Getty Images

Tennis champion Dylan Alcott has been named 2022 Australian of the Year. Picture: Getty Images

Mr Alcott runs the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which helps young Australians with disabilities get engaged with sport and education by fundraising for grants, scholarships and mentorship.

He also founded disability and accessibility training start-up Get Skilled Access in 2017, and uses speaking and media engagements to advocate for people with disabilities.

Mr Alcott praised 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame in his speech. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Mr Alcott praised 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame in his speech. Picture: Keegan Carroll

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Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche, called the athlete an "inspiration".

"Dylan Alcott is a champion who has risen to the top of the world rankings through sheer grit and determination. His golden slam is an incredible feat, the first for any male tennis player," she said.

"Dylan is an inspirational Australian on and off the tennis court. Through the Dylan Alcott Foundation, he is giving young Australians facing disadvantage the promise of a better future."

Mr Alcott was a member of the Australian men's national wheelchair basketball team, the Rollers. He was only 17 years old when he won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

In 2016, he returned to the Paralympics - this time competing in wheelchair tennis. He won two gold medals at the Rio Paralympics in wheelchair tennis quad singles and doubles.

In 2021, Mr Alcott became the only man and only Australian to win tennis's golden slam when completed the calendar-year grand slam and took home Paralympic gold from the Tokyo Games. He has 23 grand slam titles to his name.

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott said he loves having a disability. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Australian of the Year 2022 Dylan Alcott said he loves having a disability. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Mr Alcott is a paraplegic because he was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord.

He has spoken about being bullied because of his disability as a child; he was introduced to wheelchair tennis as a youngster and soon fell in love with the sport.

"I started when I was about 11 and I absolutely loved it," he said.

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The story 'I love my disability': Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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