How sport helped Madison de Rozario love and respect her body

Paralympian Madison de Rozario is using her success to push for acceptance and appreciation of people with a disability in and out of the sports arena.

For four-time Paralympian Madison de Rozario, success is not defined by her gold medals or marathon wins, but the person she has become since her 2008 Paralympics debut. 

“I’m very proud of the medals and wins. They were definitely the goals I set, but my idea of success is who I’ve had to become in order to achieve that,” Madison says.

“It’s in the people you surround yourself with, the sacrifices you make, the work you do and the mentality you have.”

The wheelchair racer recently added two more gold medals – for the 1500 and marathon – to her collection at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. 

For someone who’s spent almost 15 years competing at an elite level, Madison does not consider herself a competitive person. 

Leaving that aspect to her coach (former paralympic champion Louise Sauvage), she is driven by progress.  

“I’m not competitive, which has been difficult given the career choices I’ve made,” she says.

“My coach is very competitive, so we had to work out what works for me and as cliched as it sounds, it’s just trying to be the best version of myself.”

Tapping into mind games

Training not only for T53 (a disability sport classification) middle to long distance Paralympic events, Madison also frequents (and wins) some of the world’s most renowned marathons. 

It is here that her mental game becomes just as important as her physical performance.  

“Specifically in a marathon or a longer event, I remind myself of the details of what I’m doing because the big picture is so overwhelming at times.

“I’m reminding myself of why I’m doing it and that I chose to put myself here. 

“It doesn’t make it easy but it definitely grounds me.” 

This philosophy influences her training too, getting Madison through weeks of early mornings and tough sessions. 

“I almost give myself an out each day.

“If I wake up and I’m just not feeling it, which I think we all do, literally no one can make me go. 

“But every time I end up choosing to go.

“It applies outside of sport, too — turning up because you’ve chosen to is so much better than being forced or forcing yourself to. 

“You apply yourself more because you want to be there.”

Discovering her strong suit

From humble beginnings attempting wheelchair basketball, Madison says her almost comical inaptitude for other sports was what first landed her in a racing chair.

“I found athletics sort of because I was bad at every other sport,” she says. 

“The basketball coach basically told me I wasn’t an asset to the team but wanted me to try something else. 

“He had a track chair in the storage room, so I tried it out in the parking lot and just fell in love with it.”

At home in her body

Athletics became a place where, growing up, Madison learned to appreciate her body for its ability rather than appearance.

“I think sport is so valuable, especially for girls and people with disabilities,” she says. “Through sport I was able to regain the bodily autonomy you lose just by being a female or disabled person in society. 

“Sport forces you to create a positive relationship with your body.

“Especially in elite sport where you ask your body to do these painful and exhausting things, you can’t do that without love and respect for it,” she says.

“But whether you’re an athlete or not, our bodies are our homes, and if that’s all they do then that’s 100 per cent enough.”

As a young person already navigating the usual body struggles, Madison found her disability an additional challenge.

“It was difficult being in a body where no matter how much work I did, like lose weight, put on muscle or try to better fit the mould, nothing I did was going to create a body that society has deemed beautiful or acceptable,” she says. 

Recognising athletes of all abilities

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games were broadcast on Channel 7, a move Madison says has made para sports more mainstream.

“I feel like Australia is falling in love with the individuals and that’s helping, seeing people in their entirety, not just as an athlete, not just some person with a disability,” she says.

“Then we’re kind of able to transfer that to people with disabilities who aren’t athletes.” 

She says there is still much to be done in converting this appreciation for Paralympic athletes into acceptance for all Australians with a disability. 

“We can’t remove all stigmas through sport on the screen,” Madison says. 

“Our (disability) employment rates are not where they need to be, so it’s done through working 9-5 alongside someone with a disability.

“It’s amazing for us as Paralympians to be able to have a voice and have that impact, but it’s the stuff on the ground that’s got to shift perceptions and actually change lives.” 

  • Chemist Warehouse has teamed up with Athletics Australia to support athletes from amateur to elite level.

For more inspirational health and wellbeing content, pick up your free copy of Wellness+ Beauty and Skin edition, available at your local Chemist Warehouse. 

Written by Hayley Hinze. 

Image by Steve Christo.