Translator: Theresa Ranft Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs
This right here is a photo of me when I was 14 years old.
Now, I know what you're thinking,
are you sure that's not Ryan Gosling?'
But, unfortunately, no, this is a photo of me.
Now, for a long time, I tried to delete this photo from my memory,
and to be honest, do you blame me?
Firstly, what the hell is going on with my hair there?
I remember my mum's a hairdresser.
I used to sit in the front seat of her car with a tub of gel and a hairbrush,
and on the way to school every day, I'd sit there thinking,
'Dylan, you have absolutely nailed it!'
I still don't understand why she let me leave the car.
where the hell are my eyebrows?
unfortunately for me,
I didn't grow any eyebrows until I was 17 years old.
Now, I understand that I had completely no control over that,
but, as you can imagine, it wasn't really helping my cause, was it?
I also had braces.
I also had my bed in the pantry,
and I was a little bit on the overweight side.
This was really the first time in my life
that I was really struggling with my disability.
Up until this age, I'd never really cared about the fact that I was in a wheelchair.
Everybody was young, nobody really noticed it,
and everything just went along pretty smoothly.
But, at this time, things started to change.
People started going to house parties.
Boys started kissing girls, girls started kissing boys.
Girls starting kissing girls,
and occasionally, boys started kissing boys.
But, absolutely nobody was kissing Dylan,
I can tell you that much.
And it was also about the first time
that I really thought about myself as being weird because I had a disability.
And, to be honest, that really sucked,
and had a really big effect on absolutely everything that I did.
I started having a crap time at school.
It really started affecting my sporting career as well.
For the first time in my life, I was really, really down on myself.
And then, the next year, in Year 9, something happened.
A mate of mine was having a house party.
Now, this was a really good mate of mine.
And previously, I'd never really been invited to that many house parties,
and I thought, 'What a perfect opportunity to go to your first one.
I'm absolutely going to kill it,
and everybody will invite me to all the parties coming up ever since'.
Now, the invites for the party came out, and what do you reckon happened?
I didn't get one.
I didn't get an invite.
And I remember thinking to myself,
'That is bullshit.
Like, I'm actually really good friends with this guy,
how could I not be invited to his party?'
I was sitting at home the day of the party,
and I went to myself, 'I just really, really want to go'.
Now, back in the day when you're 15,16, it was super uncool and lame
to text the person to ask if you can come to the party.
The far more badass thing to do was simply turn up and jump the fence.
Now, as you could imagine,
jumping, it's not really my forte.
And unless I had some kind of crane or, like, trampoline device ...
there was no way in hell that I was getting over that fence.
The only way to get in
was to knock on the door and go through the front.
Anyway, I sat at home and I'm like, 'Stuff it.
I'm going to go and see what happens'.
I go to the front door, knocked on the door, and my mate answered.
And he had this really weird, shocked look on his face, like I was there.
I remember thinking to myself, like, 'What have I done?
Why didn't I sit at home and play N64, like I did every other Saturday night?'
Anyway, he looked at me, and he said,
'Dyl, mate, I'm so glad that you came.
I didn't know if you could get in my house because of the stairs,
so I didn't invite you'.
I remember thinking to myself, 'Is that it?
Is that genuinely the only reason that I wasn't invited?'
Anyway, I went in that house party,
absolutely crushed it, had an awesome time.
I remember the next day, I woke up, and I was really bloody mad at myself.
I was really mad at myself
that I let my insecurities and my embarrassment about my disability
I was really mad at myself that I believed this thing,
this negative stigma that having a disability
makes you weird, makes you different,
and that's the only reason people don't want to hang out with you.
I'm really mad at myself that I didn't just grow a set of balls,
have some confidence, talk to my friends and educate them about my disability.
Now, the only reason I wasn't invited that night
wasn't because they didn't like me,
but it was because I didn't tell them about my disability.
I didn't tell them I could get up the stairs,
and it'll all be fine.
I sat at home for a whole year thinking these people didn't like me.
The only reason that they did was because they weren't educated about disability,
and I really didn't do anything to educate them on it.
So, after that night, things really changed for me.
I started being more social,
I started getting a lot fitter,
I started going out a lot more,
and I even started kissing the odd girl or two.
After that night, I made a pact with myself.
I made a pact with myself
to never, ever let my disability get in the way of what I wanted to do.
I made a pact with myself to not be scared of my disability,
but rather to embrace it in everything that I did.
Because of that, I've been able to live a truly, incredibly awesome life.
In 2008, I was lucky enough
to win a gold medal at the Paralympic games,
playing basketball for Australia - wheelchair basketball, believe it or not.
This was incredible for me.
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to go to the Paralympic games.
The Paralympics - for those who don't know -
is the pinnacle of elite sport for people with disabilities.
But a lot of people
don't know the true meaning of the word 'Paralympic'.
The word is actually split in two:
the 'Olympic' part - which represents the Olympics,
the pinnacle of sport -
and the 'Para' part.
There's a common misconception
that the 'Para' part actually means paraplegic or paralysed,
but this isn't the case.
The 'Para' actually represents 'parallel',
meaning the Paralympics runs parallel, or alongside, the Olympics.
Same gold medals, same venues, same elite athletes, same time.
The only difference is obviously we all have disabilities at the Paralympics.
Now, this was awesome in Beijing for me.
I was 17 years old at the time,
so I was still doing my HSC or VCE while I was over there.
To be 17 years old and sit on top of the podium with 12 of your best mates -
guys that had lost limbs to cancer,
other guys that had horrific accidents on their worksites
so were left up in wheelchairs.
Other guys who had car crashes and never be able to walk again
and lost loved ones in the process.
To sit on top of that podium and so proud of what we had done,
singing that national anthem with tears in our eyes -
it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It really was incredible and something I'll cherish forever.
I've also got a bit of a name for myself
as the dude that crowd surfs in his wheelchair at festivals.
I've been very lucky to travel around the world
attending different music festivals.
Everybody knows me as,
'You're the guy that crowd surfs in his wheelchair!'
To be honest, the first [time] that I ever did this
was completely out of necessity
because I was sick and tired of sitting in the mosh pit
and looking at all your asses all day.
You don't understand how much that sucks after a while.
But from the first time I did it, I was absolutely hooked.
It's an incredible feeling, sitting on top of that crowd
in what I like to call the best seat in the house.
It really is incredible.
I think it's a really cool metaphor for people with disabilities as well,
what they can really do,
getting out there, breaking the mould, doing what's unexpected of them.
On a side note, I've only fallen out once.
And don't worry, I didn't get any more disabled from the fall,
so it's all good.
when I reflect on my life, I think back to when -
I'm really happy that I can sit here now
and think that all this stuff almost didn't happen to me.
I remember back when I was 14, I think of 14-year-old Dylan, and I think
I had these really low expectations of myself of what I could achieve.
And I let that dictate what I did in everyday life.
I think back to 14-year-old Dylan
who thought of his disability as this really shitty burden
that was really hard to overcome.
I think back to 14-year-old Dylan,
and I think I'm so lucky doing what I'm doing these days.
I'm so glad that I could challenge my own perception
about what I thought about disability.
And to be honest, I can sit here in front of you all today
and tell you 100% honest truth:
if I ever had the chance to go back in time
or eat some kind of magic pill and walk again,
there's no way in hell you could pay me enough to do it.
Because I absolutely love everything in my life,
wheelchair or not.
I wouldn't change it for the world.
But, unfortunately, there are so many kids across the world, all around Australia
that are really struggling socially because of their disabilities.
Disability remains this thing that nobody wants to talk about.
There's still this negative stigma
that having this disability is this weird, unlucky, really ugly thing.
And for kids with disability that don't have any confidence,
it's really hard for them to get over this
and get into the world and do what they want to do.
And it really restricts everything that they want to achieve.
There are heaps of problems in the world:
poverty, refugees, same-sex marriage, gender equality.
They're all very, very important things.
But when the hell do you ever hear anything about disability?
Or when do you ever turn on the TV
and see the first news story about somebody with a disability?
Or when do you turn on your TV and see a wheelchair TV presenter -
sorry, a presenter in a wheelchair?
Or somebody with cerebral palsy in our parliaments?
Or an actual blind actor playing a blind actor,
as opposed to some bloke who's just closing his eyes?
Now, I remember when I was a kid,
when I was struggling, when I was 14,
I just wish I could have turned on my television
and seen a guy in a wheelchair achieving.
Because it would have made me realise that,
'You know what? I could do that too! That, one day, could be me'.
I wish I had a positive role model in the media
where I could have seen somebody absolutely killing it,
and that would've instilled the confidence in me
to get out there and do whatever I want.
I think it's really important moving forward that we, as a society,
change our perception of disability away from this idea
that it's this really bad, unlucky, weird thing,
and stop being so scared to talk about it.
We need to realise that it's okay to have any disability,
and we need to further our expectations of what people with disabilities can do.
Moving forward, I think in order to do that,
we need to mainstream disability.
Get people with disabilities into our mainstream media,
and that will increase the visibility in a positive light.
We need to make disability heaps more commonplace.
We need to start the conversation about it,
which will go a long way in normalising it.
And then, who knows?
Maybe one day, if we can do that,
these kids, like me, like I used to be,
won't be going through such a tough time.
They won't be embarrassed about their disability ever again.
They'll have the confidence to go out there and do whatever they want.
But, as a society, we really have to hope they pick a much better haircut than that.