Col Pearse was always taught to dream big. And this week the 18-year-old will live out his dream at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, swimming in the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley and 100m backstroke.
Col lost his foot at the age of two, yet it never stifled his active spirit and constant need to move. Col’s mum Teena says this was in his nature from infancy, remembering how she had to cuddle and hold him to sleep or he would crawl out of his cot.
At the age of four, Col was gifted a push bike and through his frustrations, didn’t give up until he could ride it. He would often climb up on the fort in the backyard and jump off it.
His adventurous spirit wasn’t always easy to witness for Teena, but she continued to encourage him to take risks and give everything a go.
“I’ll never forget the words of Ian Torode at the RCH limb clinic. He told me, ‘Let him do whatever he wants. We will put him back together when he hurts himself. Let him be a kid’. So, when he was being creative with his play I just told myself, the Children’s fixed him once. They can do it again.”
Through his active childhood, it was swimming that Col leaned towards, as he said, “Swimming has always been a part of my life. Growing up as a kid I’ve always played other sports and swimming for me was just the sport I enjoyed the most and I was best at.”
“With disability, it doesn’t affect you the same in the water. Swimming is one of the best sports you can do because it’s easy on the bones, it’s easy on the muscles, not really too much pressure put onto my stump.”
Col was inspired to swim competitively when he met Ellie Cole after the London 2012 Games and held her gold medal, “To see someone similar to me, to be able to achieve something so huge, as a kid I made that goal to go to the Paralympics”.
While the pandemic and the 2020 lockdowns in Victoria threatened to stall his swimming practice with pools closing across Melbourne, Col went back home to the dairy farm where his family improvised and turned the dam into a lap pool, or as Teena calls it, the ‘Pearse Aquatic Centre’.
With shipping pallets as turning boards, empty milk jugs threaded on hay bale wire as lane ropes, and family members as supervisors, Col’s training continued. As Teena says, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And what we’ve got is a big dam.”
Col’s preparation might not have been ‘typical’ but he feels ready to take on Tokyo and fulfill his dream of competing at a Paralympic Games.
“Growing up as a kid it’s always been my goal to make the Paralympics so for that to finally be achieved is pretty special. For now, it’s just soaking up the experience. It’s my first games, hopefully the first of many. I just want to go out there, put on a show for Australia but also achieve the goals I set for myself. Not many people get to have this opportunity so to make the most of it would just be awesome.”
When Teena dropped Col at the airport, she knew he had put in the work, and knows he will always give his best effort. The only advice left to give him was “Have fun. Be safe and have fun.”
As for children hoping to make it to the Olympics or Paralympics one day, Col’s advice is that anything is possible. “If you’ve got a goal and a dream, you do what you can to achieve it, even if it’s something little, do it. The sky’s the limit. I don’t think disabilities nowadays can stop us from doing anything.”
From the Limb Difference Clinic and the entire RCH team—good luck Col. Have fun.