Uni SEEDS are growing para-athletes

By Amber-Louise Sleight.

Semester two scholarship applications are now open for a one-of-a-kind sports program which has para-athletes moving to the Sunshine Coast to be a part of.

The University of the Sunshine Coast Sports Elite and Education Dual Stream (USC SEEDS) Program is the first of its kind in an Australian university. The program was created to support para-athletes in combining sport with study and succeeding in both.

USC SEEDs program manager Bridie Kean says it was inspired by the American system. “College sports is quite big in the US,” Kean says. “There are wheelchair athletics programs in the US that basically have college sports programs for para-sports. I actually graduated from one of those universities [the University of Illinois] and the idea was that we could take elements from that program and apply them back here in Australia.”

The program was piloted in semester one 2016 and the first scholarships were awarded in semester two last year. “The launch of the scholarships was a massive highlight to be able to actively support student athletes who are balancing sport and study and make it possible for them to combine the hard work that they’re doing both in the classroom and on court,” Kean says.

The scholarships are open to any athlete who plays any sport with a Paralympic pathway.

SEEDS athletes Hannah Dodd and Steven Elliott in action.

Prosthetics and orthotics student Hannah Dodd, 25, plays wheelchair basketball and is enjoying the program she moved from Sydney to join.

“I’m a newbie: I only started this semester,” Dodd says. “It’s great. Prosthetics is only offered here and in Melbourne and because of the SEEDS program, it was a much better sports program for me than what they had on offer in Melbourne.

“You get focussed training sessions which is good. You can work on what you need to work on for Aussie teams and if you’re in national league teams. You get support for study on the side which is great because obviously, we’re away a fair bit for squad commitments and national leagues, so we miss quite a lot of school. Having that extra support makes life a lot easier.”

Dodd’s first sport was equestrian. At the 2012 London Olympics, she was recruited over to wheelchair basketball and has been playing for five years. Dodd says she also went to world championships in 2015, has been part of the Australian senior team for three years, plays for the Sydney Uni Flames in the women’s and Wollongong Roller Hawks in the men’s.

Gympie para-athlete and sports studies student Steven Elliott, 22, found the passion for his sport after he suffered a spinal cord injury nine years ago.

“I contracted a disease called transverse myelitis, so I went in a wheelchair and decided I wanted to play sports and got into wheelchair basketball,” Elliott says. “That’s probably eight years ago now and yeah, loved it ever since.

“I’ve played with the Australian under 23s and a development Aussie team. I train with Australian Rollers and I’m with the RSL Spinning Bullets. That’s our national league side.”

Athlete Steven Elliott doing what he does best.

Elliott has been in the program since it started and says the extra help athletes get when they need it is “really good” and the scholarships are helpful.

“It helps a little bit with funding,” Elliott says. “Wheelchair basketball’s not cheap so it gives us a little bit of money and free court hire and gym. That definitely helps. Then there’s help with our assessments if we need it.”

But he says athletes are not always guaranteed a spot.

“It’s an ongoing program, so each semester you have to reapply and if you fall behind or you don’t follow protocols then you’ll get kicked out of the squad,” Elliott says. “It’s a two-way street, so if you keep doing the right things you’ll get selected.”

Both Dodd and Elliott aspire to go to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games. They are both in national teams this year. Steven will be off to the under 23s world championship in the next few weeks and Hannah is off to compete for Australia in Germany this month.

Kean says the SEEDS program is classified as anyone receiving SEEDS scholarships or any para-sport scholarships. Six para-athletes across three different sports (basketball, swimming and para-cycling) have been awarded scholarships so far. She says the program is looking to expand on the number of sports and is partnered with the Queensland Academy of Sport and Basketball Australia.

There is also a coaching part of the program for anyone who wants to pursue a para-sport coaching pathway.

More SEEDS program highlights:

  • Winning the VC Diversity and Equity award last year
  • A USC Spartans team entered a wheelchair basketball tournament in January and was the only university team
  • Doing demonstration exhibitions and showcasing para-sport at Australian University sport events

Scholarship applications close on June 30.

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