Medal return for para athlete

Buninyong wheelchair track racer Sam Rizzo achieved a lot in just four days of competition at the World Para-Athletics Junior Championships.

Not only was the inaugural event in Switzerland his first overseas trip, it was also his first time making an international team and winning medals for his country.

Sam Rizzo with his medals. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Sam Rizzo with his medals. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Rizzo came home with a silver medal in the 400m, along with three bronze in the 800m, 1500m and 100m, under the T54 classification.

“It was definitely a very good feeling and just to be part of the very first junior championship,” Rizzo said. 

“But also to be chosen as flag bearer and to be the very first one doing that for my country, I was definitely honoured and proud.”

The flag bearing duties came on Rizzo’s 17th birthday, which he said would be a life-long memory.

So too will the moment more than 270 athletes from all around the world sang him happy birthday.

But the competition also presented many new challenges for Rizzo, such as rain, heat, two flat tyres and redoing a race due to technical difficulties with the timer.

“It was a good learning curve, just learning to adapt to all different circumstances,” he said. 

Rizzo said to make top three in the world juniors was something “cool” and “exciting” for him after going in with little expectation.

But it also made him want to keep working harder in order to defend and improve his position.

The overseas experience has also given him an appetite for international competition, with the 17-year-old keen to represent his country again soon.

Highlights away from the track included old and new friendships with teammates and competitors, and meeting an idol, Swiss paralympian Marcel Hug.

“He is the world’s fastest T54 wheelchair athlete for everything above 400 metres,” Rizzo said.

“When I saw him, I decided to be brave and introduce myself.”

Rizzo said Hug imparted some wisdom to him including how he uses sandpaper to contend with the rain.

The young star felt the support from home, with family and friends staying up at night to watch his races and send him messages of encouragement.

His church even gathered together to watch one of his races on the big screen.

Rizzo said his success would not have been possible without the help of his family, coach Richard Colman, WestVic Academy of Sport, MCPhysio and sponsors Fila, the Variety Club of Victoria and Astec.