Eyes on Birmingham under champion’s mentorship

Indiana Cooper has been named as a recipient of the prestigious Kurt Fearnley Scholarship.

Para-sport athlete Indiana Cooper has been welcomed by Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of New South Wales as one of the next class of Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipients who are targeting the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Along with three other young Para-sport athletes, Indi has been selected as a recipient of the 2021/22 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship, named in honour of one of Australia’s greatest Para-sport athletes who will provide mentorship to the next generation of champions.

The scholarship program is a joint venture between Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of NSW established in 2019 to target talented individual Para-sport athletes in NSW who received minimal funding from existing programs.

The initiative also receives program support from the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) and is fully endorsed by Paralympics Australia.

Competing in athletics since the age of nine, 15-year-old Indi has long had her eye on Commonwealth Games glory, and says she is over the moon to have been chosen for the prestigious scholarship.

“This means so much to me and I am so grateful,” Indi said. 

“I never thought I would get this opportunity and now that I have, it’s just incredible.

“The scholarship provides just under $4,000 to go towards expenses, and also $1,000 towards a NSWIS program support including assistance with performance planning and access to NSWIS facilities. But most importantly, I will receive mentorship from dual Commonwealth Games and three-time Paralympic gold medalist Kurt Fearnley. 

“This scholarship will hopefully help me to gain a high performance coach and help pay for training camps to further my athletics training.”

There have been 10 former recipients of the scholarship over the 2019 and 2020/21 classes, with five alumni recently competing for Australia at the Tokyo Paralympics, with Para-swimmers Jasmine Greenwood and Ricky Betar each winning silver medals at the Tokyo Games.

The scholarship’s recipients were due to be announced at the Carbine Club of NSW autumn racing lunch, which was cancelled, so instead they joined Fearnley for a special online induction.

Fearnley, who bowed out of international competition with an emotional marathon win at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, told the scholarship recipients via an induction teleconference that he was looking forward to working with the third group of scholarship holders to help them to pursue their sporting dreams. 

He said he is continually in awe of the impact the scholarship is having on the Para-sport movement.

“The growth of Para-sport has been remarkable,” Fearnley said.

“I remember watching one of the first events in the Commonwealth Games for Para-athletes in 1994. It was when I was relatively new to the sporting movement and seeing people with disabilities held in the Commonwealth Games as a united family was something that I was really enthralled with… for the Australians, we had Paul Wiggins racing in the marathon and winning the gold medal.

“With this scholarship, you are supporting my community and a group I have constantly said over the last few weeks of Paralympics coverage [with Channel 7], that this is my extended family in the way that it is supported and the way that you have grabbed hold of them.

“I am just extremely grateful. Often I think we come from a place where people with disabilities in sport have felt like we as the ‘other’, but we, and I, definitely don’t see it that way now.

“I see this embracing of my family and my community by Commonwealth Games Australia and the Carbine Club of NSW, but also by the greater community, which is really heart-warming.”

Fearnley congratulated Indi and the three other incoming recipients – Alex Tuckfield, 16, (Para-swimming), Sarah Clifton-Bligh, 17, (Para-athletics) and Junjian “Jessy” Chen, 21, (Para-table tennis) – on making it this far, and encouraged them for the future.

“My involvement with the scholarship is twofold. I get to see the organisations that supported me, the organisations that I feel grateful to be a part of, to support the next group of New South Wales Para-athletes, but also I get to be a part of their journey as well,” Fearnley said.

“Congratulations on everything that you’ve done to get yourself here.

“It is a bit strange to think of now that there is a history of Paralympic performance in this squad [already] and there will be a very strong future of Commonwealth Games performance in the squad as well.”

Fearnley said he is sure his scholarship recipients representing Australia will grow in Birmingham and beyond.

“We’re only months away now from naming a team to Birmingham and I do hope I get to celebrate with people, not only from this squad right now, but also the extended squad already and thank you for doing what you do as well,” he said.

“We often think, we often praise or we often celebrate the moment but I’d like to take this moment to thank you for all the hard work that you’ve done.

“To get yourself to this point, you’re recognised as a future not only competitor for Australia, but hopefully a future leader for the Australian Sports movement.”

Commonwealth Games Australia chief executive officer Craig Phillips AM said the scholarship program was an important part of developing the next Para-sport representatives at the Commonwealth Games.

“The Birmingham 2022 Games with eight Para-sports, will have more Para-sport events on the programme than ever before, and we want to provide our young athletes with the opportunity to fulfil their sporting aspirations,’’ Mr Phillips said.

Caroline Searcy, chair of the Carbine Club of New South Wales, said the club was proud to continue its support of the scholarships.

“The Carbine Club are proud to continue to partner with one of Australia’s greatest sportsmen to assist junior Para-sport athletes to achieve their sporting dreams,” Ms Searcy said.

“We have a tradition of supporting junior sport in New South Wales and the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship furthers that commitment.”

New South Wales Institute of Sport program manager Tom Dickson believes the scholarship can make a significant impact in the sport journeys of these young Para-sport stars of the future.

“The results from the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipients demonstrate how important this support can be for young Para-sport athletes, so we are pleased to continue our partnership with the program and look forward to welcoming the 2021/22 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship holders to NSWIS,” Mr Dickson said.

Indi and the three other latest additions to the program follow on from the 2020 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship class where six recipients were supported through a difficult year due to COVID restrictions.

Wheelchair basketball players Maryanne Latu and Jessica Cronje were selected for the Australian Gliders women’s team for the Tokyo Paralympics, with Jessica making the final Gliders team to compete at her first Paralympics.

Two-time Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipient Aimee Fisher narrowly missed out on selection to her first Paralympics, but will now be targeting the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, while fellow Para-athletics young star Kailyn Joseph won bronze in her long jump class at the 2021 Athletics Australia Championships.

Para-cyclist Benjamin Said won multiple gold medals at the Australian Championships in early 2021, and Para-swimmer Oscar Stubbs won the men’s 50m backstroke S13 event at the Swimming Australia Virtual Short Course event in December 2020.

Indi’s scholarship profile states: Indiana “Indi” Cooper competes in the T38 100m event and continues to improve. Based on the world rankings as of 29th June 2021, Indi is well placed to qualify for Birmingham. She is currently not nationally categorised within the high-performance system so the additional support received through a Kurt Fearnley Scholarship will assist her progression and maximise her chances to qualify for Birmingham.

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