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05 September, 2016

Paralympics 2016: Meet the star athletes

All the best to Jenna, Kate, and Katie in their Paralympics journey!

Jenna Jones

Swimming

Photo of Jenna Jones

Jenna Jones was born with a rare degenerative vision impairment called cone-road dystrophy and was diagnosed with it when she was in kindergarten. With a love for sports and her eyes deteriorating rapidly, Jenna and her parents quickly decided that swimming was the safer option.

In 2014 and at just 13 years of age, Jenna competed at her first Australian Open Championships. Surprising herself, Jenna made three A Finals and two B Finals and set 11 Australian Age records. During the 2015 Australian Championships Jenna was battling illness but still managed to walk away with a silver medal in the 50m breaststroke which was her first national open medal.

At the 2015 Australian Age Championships, Jenna was an absolute star and won six gold and three silver medals. She also broke nine Australian and ten state records in her class. In November 2015, Jenna won her first national short course title in the women's multi-class 50m backstroke.

When Jenna was in year three an itinerant teacher recommended she learned how to use a long cane and that's when Jenna's mother, Therese contacted Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading supplier of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently.

Guide Dogs tailored a program to meet Jenna's needs and have provided ongoing training as required. Although she often gets by without using her cane at school, Jenna uses the mobility aid when she is by herself and will be using her cane every day in Rio, as she will be moving through unfamiliar surroundings.

In the future Jenna would like to work as a physiotherapist or work with animals.

Kathleen (Kate) Murdoch

Rowing

Photo of Kate rowing

Kate Murdoch, 29, from South Penrith, was born with cone-rod dystrophy and declared legally blind at the age of 16. As an active teenager who loved most sports, she was left feeling at a loss as her sight continued to deteriorate. Following a suggestion from her Dad, who was a former rower, Kate decided to pick up the oars and step out on the water.

Kate has been rowing competitively for six years. Each vision impaired rower is placed in a category according to the level of their vision loss. While in Kate's case this is B1 as she has no usable vision, this fact does not carry much weight with her. For a young person who has gradually lost her sight, rowing gave Kate a renewed sense of independence.

Kate helped to create Australian history in 2016, when she and the LTA Mixed Coxed Four qualified their boat for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. This was the first time Australia had ever qualified the boat class for the Games.

While Kate and her team have only been rowing together since the beginning of 2016, she is confident that they have what it takes to excel in Rio. With 4am starts and after work work-outs, Kate has been training around the clock in preparation for the Paralympics. As well as relying on her teammates and coach, she counts heavily on her young Guide Dog Trixie, an honorary member of the crew.

Trixie is the second Guide Dog Kate has received from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT to improve her mobility and independence, and the beautiful black Lab has been her eyes and constant companion for the past two years.

Katie Kelly

Triathlon

Katie on her bike with training partner and guide Michellie Jones

Katie Kelly was born with a rare deaf and blind degenerative condition called Usher Syndrome. Her hearing loss began when she was five but her vision did not start regressing until her mid-twenties. Despite her condition, Katie's career to date has evolved from working in the Sports consumer services industry for over 20 years to now finding herself competing on the sporting field as an elite Paratriathlete.

Katie's training regime consists of at least two sessions a day of running, swimming or riding, as well as strength and conditioning and recovery work all the while working as a marketing consultant and establishing her Foundation, Sport Access. She is currently living in Canberra and trains under Australian Paratriathlon Head Coach, Corey Bacon.

Katie has completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Griffith University and a Masters of Business, Major in Marketing at the University of Technology of Sydney. Katie is now using her own experience in the corporate world to advocate for and improve the lives of people with a disability, following in the footsteps of one of her greatest role models, Stella Young.

Katie is not one to let her disability get in the way of passions and has run major marathon events and ocean swims around the world including the Port Macquarie Ironman, Alice Springs Marathon as well as the New York Marathon.

It didn't take long for Katie to get herself known in Paratriathlon circles when she made her debut for Australia at the ITU World Paratriathlon Event on the Sunshine Coast in March 2015, where she won gold in the PT5 class and received a time considered to be in the top five of the world.

At the end of 2014, Katie decided to contact Guide Dogs to help her learn how to use a long cane to safely move through different environments. As the leading supplier of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, the organisation tailored a program to meet Katie's needs. She currently gets by without using her cane often, but knows it is available and the techniques she needs to use when she does.

Since being qualified to compete in the Paratriathlon in Rio, she has enlisted Australian Olympic silver medallist and two-time world champion Michellie Jones to be her guide. Katie is looking forward to training with her and gaining many more skills.