Tennis star Dylan Alcott named Australian of the Year
Athlete and disability advocate Dylan Alcott has been named the 2022 Australian of the Year.
Alcott, who on Thursday will compete in what will be his last Australian Open final, is the first person with a disability to win the award in its 62-year history.
“I love my disability,” he said.
“It is the best thing that ever happened to me. It really is.
“I love the person that I am and the life I get to live and I’m the luckiest guy in this country, easily.”
The 31-year-old is a three time Paralympic gold medallist in wheelchair tennis and basketball.
Alcott said he felt “ridiculous” accepting the award compared with the contributions of so many others.
“To everybody here tonight, congratulations on what you are doing,” he said.
“To our frontline workers, our nurses, doctors, people running our vaccine clinics, our ambos, our firefighters you deserve this way more than a guy who hits tennis balls and likes talking.”
On the tennis court, Alcott has won 23 quad wheelchair Grand Slam titles and a Newcombe Medal – awarded to the most Australian outstanding tennis players in a given year.
Last year, he became the first male, in any form of tennis, to achieve a Golden Slam when he won the Quad Singles at the US Open.
But it is the sporting star’s achievements and leadership off the court that set him apart.
Dylan Alcott wins Australian of the Year
Alcott, who was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord, has credited sport for saving his life.
“I’ve known nothing but having a disability. And if I’m honest, I cannot tell you how much I used to hate myself,” Alcott said.
“I hated being different and I didn’t want to be here anymore. Whenever I turned on the TV, 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 the next scene is someone like me in tears because their life was over.”
In 2017, he founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation to provide scholarships and grant funding to marginalised Australians with a disability.
He also founded AbilityFest, the nation’s first and only fully accessible music festival.
Frustrated by the lack of media representation, Alcott now holds several high-profile media roles spanning TV, radio and podcasting.
Alcott now says his disability is “the best thing that’s ever happened” to him.
“I am so thankful for the life I get to live,” he said.
He used the speech to call for more support for others like him through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“We’ve got to keep improving, more employment opportunities for people with a disability as well,” Mr Alcott said.
“As we start opening up from this pandemic, we’ve got to start thinking about and prioritising people with disabilities.”
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche paid credit to Alcott’s “sheer grit and determination”.
“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.”
Alcott will on Thursday compete in his last Australian Open final. He will leave the game after eight years on top.
There were three other category winners recognised for their outstanding contributions on Tuesday night. Here are their extraordinary stories.
2022 Senior Australian of the Year
Valmai Dempsey has dedicated more than half her life to St John Ambulance.
The Canberra resident known lovingly as Aunty Val started out as a cadet volunteer while still at primary school and now aged 71 is one of the ACT’s longest serving volunteers.
In 2021 alone, Ms Dempsey clocked up over 600 hours of volunteer service, leading first aid training, providing support at local events and activities, and working with the Covid-19 response team.
She co-ordinated the deployment of 2020 summer bushfire teams to first aid posts and led a 40-strong team of volunteers as they supported fire-affected communities.
Ms Dempsey also created Project Survival, which took St John’s first aid education and messages into the places drug users frequented.
She hopes to use her platform to call for learner drivers to become the next generation of mobile first aiders.
2022 Young Australian of the Year
This award went to Daniel Nour, who founded Street Side Medics, a not for profit GP-led mobile medical service for people experiencing homelessness.
Dr Nour was praised for his selfless work.
At just 26-years-old, the resident doctor saw a major gap in NSW health services, prompting him to launch the organisation in August 2020.
With 145 volunteers and four clinics across NSW, the service provides medical assistance to those without a roof to call their own.
It has so far helped an estimated 300 people, treating a range of illnesses - many of which would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
The service is completely free and doesn’t require a Medicare card.
2022 Local Hero
The founder and chief executive of Sober in the Country, Shanna Whan, has helped countless people in the bush tackle their alcohol problems.
She started the grassroots charity after struggling herself with alcohol addiction and subsequently quitting drinking, and told the awards ceremony: “Let’s be honest about the fact that Australia’s got a bit of a drinking problem.
“It’s honestly more acceptable to be drunk in the country than it is to be sober,” the 47-year-old said.
She dedicated the award to those “choosing bush sunrises over hangovers” and to her husband Tim.
From initially acting as a local support network, the organisation achieved national reach and now plays a leading role in broadscale advocacy and education.
“Alcohol use is the silent pandemic we are not discussing,” Ms Whan said.
“Life in rural Australia is permanent iso. We’ve always got enough beers in the fridge, but we’ve never got enough services or support.”
Originally published as Tennis star Dylan Alcott named Australian of the Year
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