Buninyong’s wheelchair athlete Sam Rizzo took centre stage at the Carrara Stadium track as he competed in a Commonwealth Games final on Tuesday night.
The 17-year-old appeared composed ahead of his biggest event yet, the men’s T54 1500m final, and remained close to the middle of the pack for most of the race.
Rizzo finished sixth with a time of 3:14.16 minutes.
Canadian Alexandre Dupont took out the gold medal, clocking 3:11.75, while legendary Australian para-athlete Kurt Fearnley and fellow Australian Jake Lappin claimed the silver and bronze medals respectively in a strong showing for the green and gold.
It was a stirring finish, with the veteran Fearnley in his final career track event pushing hard in the last few hundred metres to edge in front of Dupont but just falling short.
Rizzo, a year 12 student at Damascus College, won four medals at the World Para-Athletics Junior Championships last year and now has his sights on the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Before heading to the Gold Coast on the weekend to cheer Rizzo on in the stands, mother Debbie Rizzo told The Courier her son had felt the support of the community and he was grateful for everyone who had helped him along the way.
Those who have provided invaluable support to Rizzo on his journey have included Paralympic gold medallist Richard Colman, who travels from Geelong once a week to train with Rizzo and is always just a phone call away, West Vic Academy providing support through strength and conditioning programs, a dietitian and sport psychology, and the Australian and Victorian Institutes of Sport.
But the community has also played a huge role. Financial support through fundraisers and sponsorship has helped the Rizzo family pay for travel, registration fees and other costs associated with the sport.
Variety Children’s Charity even supplied Rizzo with his race chair, which was custom-made to fit his dimensions and has helped him improve his times. Up until then, Rizzo had been racing with a second-hand chair.
“There has been a lot of assistance as well as just his general can-do attitude, he just does things... training, races, he doesn’t think how, he just goes ahead and does them,” Ms Rizzo said.
“He is grateful for all the people who have helped him out. It has just been amazing and he would be wanting to say thank you to all those people so much, it’s a bit of a surreal experience that he is there.”