Why Dylan Alcott is driven to help young Aussies with disability
For Dylan Alcott, success isn’t about money, awards or even an elusive underwear campaign – it’s about helping young Aussies with a disability dream big.
Although he’s not one to dwell on his many accolades, former champion wheelchair athlete Dylan Alcott laughs that there’s one trophy that stands out from the crowd – at least where visitors are concerned.
“I only keep a couple in my house and what do you reckon is the one people love the most?” the Paralympic gold medallist and 2022 Australian of the Year asks with a smile.
“The Logie! They bypass the Wimbledon (trophy) and go straight for the Logie.”
Dylan won the Logies’ Graham Kennedy Award for most popular new talent in 2019, for his role as co-host on The Set, a live music show on ABC TV.
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Why Dylan Alcott isn’t afraid to lose
Despite his impressive swag of prizes, the wheelchair basketballer-turned-tennis-player, who became an Australian household name during his career, insists he’s not super-competitive, citing a recent visit to his local lawn bowls club as evidence.
“Within minutes I was out there bowling with the club champion,” Dylan says.
“My mates were saying, ‘You loser, get off the green!’, but I am not afraid to be really bad at something.
“How else do you get good? I am not afraid to go out there with a really good lawn bowler and have them kick my arse.”
How playing sport became Dylan Alcott’s lifeline
Sport has never been all beer and skittles for the tireless disability advocate.
Playing sport was a lifeline during a difficult period in his life and, over the years, became a powerful platform to spotlight the need for inclusion and accessibility for people with a disability.
Having grown up idolising Australian tennis champion Pat Rafter – whom he now calls a mate – Dylan is acutely aware that success impacts the next generation.
“The reason his poster was on a wall was – win, lose or draw – he was a good bloke,” Dylan explains. “I loved that about him. He also looked good in underwear; so do I, and I am still waiting for my underwear commercial!”
The role of the Dylan Alcott Foundation
Jock jocularity aside, Dylan has harnessed his fame to launch his charitable foundation, the Dylan Alcott Foundation.
The charity helps young Australians living with disability succeed and achieve their dreams by providing funds for grants, scholarships and mentoring that give them life-changing opportunities in sport, education or other vocations.
As Dylan explains, it’s about helping people “get control over their own lives and do whatever they want to do – without the barriers of unconscious bias and lack of opportunities and mainstream representation”.
In addition, he also has his own consultancy, Get Skilled Access, and inclusive jobs platform The Field.
Dylan describes being on the cover of The House of Wellness liftout as “pretty cool – because 10 years ago, this wasn’t really happening, and I just want more people to get the same opportunities that I’ve had in my life”.
The importance of being candid about mental health
Dylan was left a paraplegic after surgery as an infant to remove a tumour on his spinal cord.
Although he was a gregarious kid surrounded by a loving family, Dylan struggled for years.
“I hated my disability, and I didn’t want to be here anymore,” he explains.
“When I found sport, just that social element of meeting people like me and finding it was OK to be different, (it gave) me something to strive towards … It saved my life,” he says.
Before that, Dylan escaped his feelings by playing video games and eating junk food.
Staying silent about his struggle is “the biggest regret” of his life.
It’s a mistake he will not make again and the reason he’s now so candid about mental health.
“I’ve had assistance from psychologists and mindset coaches and all kinds of people, but not everybody can afford that,” Dylan says.
“But even just having a conversation with your mate can help; or listening to a podcast, or reading this article or whatever.
“There are so many ways that you can work on your mental fitness because we all are crapping on about how much we go to the gym and stuff but as soon as we say we’re trying to work on our mental health, people start asking,‘Oh is there something wrong?’
“Well, no – I am just trying to get better.”
Journey towards taking pride in his disability
At age 33, Dylan can wholeheartedly say he’s proud of his disability.
“Two years after starting basketball, I won a gold medal at the (2008) Paralympics, which was quick and incredible,” he says.
“And I think I had that natural progression because I loved playing sport in the backyard and my brother would throw a basketball at my face and if I didn’t catch it, it would hit me in the face.
“So, I think I have good hand-eye co-ordination skills, partly because it’s innate and also because I don’t use my legs – I use my hands for everything.”
Dylan’s disability has also given him the confidence to show vulnerability which, in turn, has afforded opportunities to pick up new skills (such as lawn bowling).
“When I go into the supermarket, I am the kind of guy who will go up and say, ‘Excuse me, where is this thing?’” he explains.
“I am OK to ask for help, because I need it a lot of the time in life, off a lot of different people, because I can’t do a lot of things.
“If I didn’t have that in my nature, it would make my life harder.”
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After tennis: What comes next for Dylan Alcott?
Since retiring from professional tennis in 2022, Dylan hasn’t picked up a single tennis ball.
Not even to toss one to his beloved miniature dachshund, Sauce.
“The only time I have had a racquet in my hand was for a photo shoot and I refused to hit a ball,” he says.
“I don’t hate it; I love tennis – if I wanted to play, I would; I am just enjoying doing other things.”
Dylan is set to beam into people’s living rooms this month when he is part of Channel Nine’s 2024 Australian Open commentary team.
In between commentating, podcasting, radio work and his foundation, consultancy and jobs platform, he has also filmed a role in the new season of Bump, alongside Claudia Karvan.
“I have been taking acting classes,” Dylan reports.
“And I am really grateful for the support from all the incredible people in the industry so far.
I am going to give it a red-hot crack and, hopefully, there’s a few more auditions to follow.”
If his past efforts are anything to go by, more awards are set to follow!
Some of Dylan’s outstanding achievements:
- Paralympic wheelchair basketball gold medal, 2008
- Three Paralympic wheelchair tennis gold medals, two in 2016 and one in 2021
- Medal of the Order of Australia, aged 18, 2009
- Played wheelchair tennis for 24 consecutive hours to raise money for charity, setting a world record for the longest continuous playing of wheelchair tennis, 2014
- The Newcombe Medal – the highest honour in Australian tennis, 2016 (the first wheelchair athlete to win it)
- Australian of the Year, 2022
- Over his career, 23 squad wheelchair Grand Slam titles
- The first male professional tennis player to win the Golden Slam, winning each of the four Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Tennis Open)
Chemist Warehouse is the official pharmacy of the Australian Open, at Melbourne Park from Sunday, January 14 to Sunday, January 28, 2024.
More Aussie champions to inspire you:
- How sport helped Madison de Rozario love and respect her body
- The AFLW’s Hosking twins are living life to the fullest
- Matt Denny: ‘Strength and power don’t just happen overnight’
- Anabelle Smith: How to tackle setbacks like an Olympian
Written by Siobhan Duck.