By SAMANTHA OKELY
When 13-year-old Jay Dohnt woke up sick one morning and had to miss a day of year 8 he could never have guessed what was coming.
He was rushed to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and was quickly diagnosed with Meningococcal disease, which meant that he would need to have both legs amputated below the knee and lose four of his fingers in order to survive. There was one thing, however, that inspired Jay to keep fighting; the prospect of competing in the Paralympics.
“I remember the first time when I heard about the Paralympics, there is a set moment when a light went on and there was life after hospital which provided a lot of hope and something to focus on,” said Jay.
“I was in the footy and cricket specialists program at Henley High School and I had to pick a practical element for the course and, unlike footy or cricket, with swimming you don’t need legs, so it progressed from there,” Jay commented.
His success progressed so much so, that Jay went on to win a Bronze Medal in the 400m Freestyle in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
“I have always loved pushing myself since I was very little and definitely believe it’s a chemical thing, adrenaline or one of those. I don’t like to lose either,” said Jay with a smile.
Now 23 and studying externally at the University of South Australia, Jay has his sights set on the London Paralympics which begin in late August.
He believes this will be a unique games.
“London will be the biggest Paralympics ever and British Paralympic athletes receive more media coverage than any other athletes with disabilities in the world.”
“They are talking about selling a million tickets which is huge and this will be great to feed off when we are over there,” said Jay.
Jay has been based in his hometown Adelaide while training and says he is happy with his preparation.
“The new Aquatic centre at Marion has been fantastic and it competes with international pools in Canada, Europe and Asia in every way.
“I am training six days a week, twice a day and have done some training times I haven’t done for 18 months,” he said.
When speaking about his aims and expectations of the Paralympics Jay remains humble.
“My goal is to do my best, I know it sounds cliché but I find it comforting that I know I will be giving it everything and my experiences competing at this level of swimming have taught me that if you put a time or medal expectation on races it not only adds a lot of pressure but it is distracting.
“You can only control yourself. What I look forward to the most about the whole Paralympics experience is getting out the pool having done my best ” he said.
But Jay says one of the biggest challenges will be settling in once he arrives in London.
“Getting comfortable in my flat, getting into a good routine and not getting carried away meeting other athletes are a challenge as they take a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy.
“With these games being in a western country, food and water are less of an issue than Beijing.”
Representing Australia is very special to Jay. He says it will be something he’ll be proud of for the rest of his life.
“The swim team always punches above its weight as far as medals go, we often finish top five which is an incredible result when you consider the population of the teams that usually beat us.”
He is even more proud to be representing Australia in the Paralympics he says will aim to “inspire a generation”.
“I think the competitors of the Paralympics show a lot of strength by overcoming adversity to do what they do after suffering life changing experiences
“The Paralympics is different from the Olympics as there is not the level of money involved and therefore I feel that the athletes do what they do because they love it, not for money or fame that some Olympians desire.”
With the prospect of the Paralympics being a sell out for the first time ever Jay sees it as essential that the games gain exposure all over the world.
“There is an appetite for Paralympics sport in this country and that is clear from the rating results from the ABC after their Beijing telecast”’
Jay will compete in the 400m Freestyle, 100m Breaststroke and 200m medley in London and his journey really shows that adversity does not have to set people back but instead it can be used as a tool to go further.
Image by Flickr – Suede Bicycle