‘I don’t know if I’d be here at all’: How sport saved Dylan Alcott’s life

Dylan Alcott says he doesn’t know if he would “even be here at all” if it were not for the impact sport has had on his life.

Alcott, who has won multiple grand slam titles, two Paralympic gold medals and is considered the best quad singles tennis player in the world, opened up on his career and life with fellow Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley on One Plus One.

Beyond his many achievements in and out of the game, Alcott said the greatest gift sport has given him is introducing him to a wider, more social world.

“I hated myself. I hated my disability,” Alcott said.

“I got bullied because of my disability, I used to get called a cripple or a spastic everywhere I went. That stuff made it really hard for me — and I believed them. I believed I was less than them.

Alcott said that changed when he went to his first wheelchair tennis tournament, where he said his eyes were opened.

“When I first played tennis … I was 11 or 12 … and the craziest bit about that tennis tournament is that I had never seen someone in a wheelchair drive a car. They were all driving,” he said.

“That’s what I learned the most, the social aspect of sport. I could take away all the gold medals and everything, that was the biggest thing that sport has given me.

“Belonging into a community, but also being proud of who I was.”

A male quad wheelchair singles player pumps his fist as he celebrates winning a point at the Australian Open.

A male quad wheelchair singles player pumps his fist as he celebrates winning a point at the Australian Open.

Dylan Alcott has won the Australian Open men’s quad wheelchair singles title six times.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

Alcott said that from a young age, sport gave his life purpose and a new set of goals — some of which he is still chasing.

“I’d never had a goal before. I was just sitting home eating Doritos not wanting to go to school.

“Sport just started me on a trajectory to where I am today.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing, or [whether I’d] even be here at all.”

Alcott’s one-man mission to increase representation

As one of Australia’s most recognisable and followed para-athletes, Alcott says he has a significant role to play in enhancing the representation of disabled people, both in and out of sport.

Alcott pointed to the fact that when he was growing up, there were no disabled people in the media for him to look up to.

Dylan Alcott is seen kissing the Logie as most popular new talent.

Dylan Alcott is seen kissing the Logie as most popular new talent.

Alcott has made a successful move into the media, and Most Popular New Talent at the 2019 Logies.(AAP: Darren England)

“When I turned on the TV or the radio, and flicked to the newspaper, I never saw anyone like me. That’s what I struggled with the most,” he said.

“I loved Pat Rafter. I couldn’t be Pat Rafter. I watched Rove McManus and I couldn’t be Rove either. We were different, and there was nobody like us.

“I was like ‘eff that, I want to change that’ and I think that’s been one of my driving forces.”

And while he has enjoyed success and notoriety throughout much of his professional career, Alcott says he feels for those who came before him, who paved a trail without receiving the recognition.

“I feel bad that I’m playing on Rod Laver Arena and I’m on TV and the generations of Paralympians before me, no one knows who they are,” he said.

“That sucks. They should have been known. I fully appreciate that I’m the lucky one.”

‘What if I was not Dylan Alcott?’

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Dylan Alcott says the social aspect of sport changed his life

Alcott says his success should not mask the challenges he has faced and overcome, and admits the road ahead of him as both a para-athlete and a disabled person in Australia remains a long and difficult one.

“Being disabled sucks sometimes,” he said.

“I got discriminated [against] on a plane last year when they wouldn’t let me on because it was too windy. They got a security guard to escort me off.

“Even though we’re the lucky Paralympians and people might know [who we are], we’re also people with a disability who face that discrimination day-to-day as well.

“If it happens to us, imagine what’s happening to everyone else where they don’t have a voice. And that breaks my heart.”

Dylan Alcott at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

Dylan Alcott at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

Alcott represented Australia at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.(AAP: Jeff Crow)

Alcott and Fearnley both shared experiences of people who “look through” them when they realise they are in a wheelchair.

“When people come up to me and they speak to the person next to me, asking if I’m going to be OK and that person is a complete stranger,” Alcott said.

“Am I not a person with a soul and a voice?”

“What if I was not Dylan Alcott, if I was a 40-year-old woman with MS? A young kid with autism? Imagine how they get treated.

“That’s why I’m so passionate to try and change that. That’s why we do what we do.”