Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? It’s October 2000, and while most of Australia is tuning in to the Sydney Paralympics, I’m a little preoccupied because my parents have just gifted me the only present any six-year-old girl ever wants.
It’s another Barbie doll, and I’m even more excited than ever because she looks like me — a wheelchair user.
The doll’s name is Becky and, while there were two previous editions of this doll, Becky is the first official Paralympic Barbie.
I used to race her against my brother and his skateboard. He won, but so did I.
Twenty years on and she still holds a special place in my heart.
That’s my memory of the Sydney Games, but what do other people remember from that time?
Disability in the lounge rooms of Australia
I caught up with Newcastle Paralympian Kurt Fearnley earlier in the week.
The 2019 NSW Australian of the Year has had multiple successes in the past two decades, but his first real taste of winning silver was on home soil.
Fearnley described the experience of being able to kickstart his career with his family in the audience as “a gift”, while also explaining that the memories he has of the Sydney Games “feel like a different life ago”.
“You go in there with no expectation, but also with a lot of anticipation.”
Fearnley cites the careers of tennis player David Hall, basketballer Troy Sacks, and fellow wheelchair racer Louise Sauvage as also having been launched at the 2000 Paralympics.
“I felt like I was around these heroes of what would become my own sport,” he said.
‘All sorts of crazy’ at Games
Australian wheelchair basketball player Liesl Tesch has vivid memories from the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, her first on home soil.
“The whole Sydney experience was just the most mind-blowing, thrilling privilege that you can possibly be a part of,” she said.
“It was such an honour and it brings a big smile on my face even now.”
Ms Tesch, who is now an MP, remembers a big party atmosphere.
“I mean people in wheelchairs colliding, so we had to write a letter of apology to end that and thanking them for their services.
“I think we set a standard for what then became a degree of normality. We turned the focus towards the ability, and we see that now with mainstream athletes like Kurt Fearnley and the beautiful Madison De Rozario.
“I think before [the games] we didn’t have heroes with disabilities, [and] I think kids in wheelchairs need heroes too.
“It definitely has made people with disabilities come in and be achievers in amongst our community.”
A really good lesson in balance
Wheelchair racer Christie Dawes has mixed emotions when it comes to the 2000 Paralympics.
Two years prior to the games, the then-18-year-old Dawes, nee Skelton, packed her bags and moved from Newcastle to Sydney in order to start a gruelling training process.
Unfortunately, winning wasn’t on the cards that year.
“My performances were dismal,” Dawes recalls, “I didn’t even make a final and I didn’t even achieve a personal best”.
It wasn’t all bad though.
One of the positive things she remembers from the Games was the level of support she had around her.
Nowadays, she is focused on preparing herself for the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo.
“I really love my training and my competition, because absence makes the heart grow fonder … and the moment we’re allowed to jump on a flight anywhere where we can race, I’ll be on it.”
Becky outgrows shadow of Barbie
And as for me? I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for what Becky will appear as next.
In early 2020 the latest edition hit Australian stores, with Becky ‘Friend of Barbie’ becoming Barbie the wheelchair user.
In anticipation of this I tracked down the other three dolls in the Becky collection so that the day I become a mother or aunt I can give that special little girl a doll that looks like me.
As for now, I’m happily collecting the latest edition and donating them to the local children’s hospital.
Emma Myers is an ABC Regional Storyteller Scholarship winner, a partnership initiative with International Day of People with Disability.