SPORT was like hell for Maddie Fogarty until the moment sport she realised sport was a way she could find the courage to speak up.
In a city where - as Maddie says - sport rules, we are great at talking about our biggest, strongest and most agile athletes. But this is also why it is so important to remember the whole point of it all.
For a regional city, we do have incredible representation and a reputation to match when it comes to our athletes on the national and international stage. Our sportsperson of the year awards attracted swimming great Kieran Perkins as guest speaker while we toasted rowing world champion Katrina Werry as she eyes up the Tokyo Olympics. Top school rowers will hit Lake Wendouree next week vying for the glory Werry, who first set out with Ballarat Clarendon College, tasted as a Head of the Lake winner.
For a regional city, we have an impressive record at attracting major sporting events from national codes. This weekend alone, new A-League club Western United returns for what is shaping as a heated battle with Brisbane Roar fuelled by a war or words between United coach Mark Rudan and his well-known counterpart Robbie Fowler. Not to mention this clash has a big impact on finals.
Playing sport was how Maddie thought she should fit in.
Maddie, now aged 17, was born with cerebral palsy, affecting her movement.
She tells her story for ABC's Heywire, winning a spot in a national conference giving voice to regional Australian youth in Canberra this week. Maddie tells how she felt trapped or fighting to keep up with peers.
Then Maddie had a moment in a class basketball tournament, feeling the ball slipping from her hands and her team losing the match. Collapsing, upset and frustrated, Maddie realised she had grabbed the ball and it was lying beside her.
This was the turning point to Maddie finding more courage to speak up for herself and her ability, how she could get back in the game.
Maddie wants to challenge the notion still prevalent in many smaller towns or pockets of town where you are either in the football-netball club or you are pretty much isolated.
"Sport can be toxic in how highly regarded it is," Maddie said. "But there are great things about sport, like the connections and bonds you make, and there can be teamwork."
Sport at any level is fundamentally about testing your game at the highest levels you can and for your body.
A great example this weekend is Ballarat Cycle Classic. A huge range of ability and skill will be pedalling, or walking, or running on Sunday with every cent from entries to boost homegrown, world-class work at Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute.
There will be those pushing to challenge themselves across all distances from the new SPUD100 road ride (160 kilometres, 100 miles) to the 30-kilometre mountain bike. And there will be those out there riding or walking or running because they can.
The Classic is a mass-participation event without any races, there are no event winners.
Sport need not always be about who comes out on top.
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