All-rounder a pioneer for today’s athletes

President of the Australian Paralympic Committee Greg Hartung has a look at the uniforms and medals donated to the Australian Paralympic Committee by Australia’s first female Paralympian Daphne Hilton.As Australia prepares to send its largest away team to a Paralympics, Daphne Hilton can’t help but feel proud of the role she played in inspiring the athletes.

The 161 athletes heading to London are second only to when Sydney hosted the Games in 2000, and is more than 13 times the size of our first team of 12.

Ms Hilton was the only female on the team that went to the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, but she collected six of Australia’s 10 medals – including two gold.

And yesterday, Ms Hilton donated a set of those medals to the Australian Paralympic Committee, which will lend them to the Australian Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Across three games, Ms Hilton won 14 medals – three gold, five silver and six bronze. Remarkably, they were won across five different sports: swimming, athletics, fencing, table tennis and archery. In athletics alone, she won medals in the javelin, club throw, shot put, 60-metre wheelchair sprint and the pentathlon.

She won a further 18 gold medals at the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in 1962 and 1966, and was the only woman in the Australian wheelchair basketball team at the 1966 Games in Jamaica.

But rather than boast about her versatility, Ms Hilton said it was a necessity. ”You had to participate in more than one sport,” she said. ”Unlike today, we had to concentrate on five or six just to make the team.”

As one of the Paralympic Games pioneers, Ms Hilton was made to earn her success. She relied on the generosity and goodwill of her home town – Harden-Murrumburrah – to help raise funds for her maiden trip overseas, and only a handful of people watched her gold medal races.

And her third Games were moved from Mexico City to Tel Aviv following doctors’ doubts on how athletes with disabilities would handle competing at altitude.

Ms Hilton, now 78, said it was encouraging to see how the Paralympics had evolved.

”The recognition now is absolutely wonderful, I just wish it was like that when we were on show – with the money support they get today, it’s tremendous and all the opportunities they have for special coaches and training,” Ms Hilton said.

”We had to fund the trip ourselves. My home town helped me a lot, running food stalls and dances and things like that, it was humbling.”

Ms Hilton, who was left a paraplegic after a horse riding accident when she was 17, said she donated the medals – along with three Australian team blazers – because it ”might mean something to people”.

APC president Greg Hartung said Ms Hilton’s efforts represented the foundations of the paralympic movement.

”We’ve all followed after Daphne,” he said.

”The achievements of our paralympic athletes are not to be underestimated … her achievements were remarkable.

”As Australia’s first medallist she’s a wonderful advertisement for that versatility. She competed in five sports, represented Australia in three Paralympic Games.”

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