Episode 42 - Richard Colman

March 27, 2019 13 min read

Episode 42 - Richard Colman

   

  

In this episode, Richard Colman, a wheelchair athlete born with Spina Bifida shares his journey with us as an athlete and coach. He is currently working with the National Disability Insurance Agency NDIA). He has competed for Australia in the T53 Category in various games and championships worldwide such as the World Athletics Championships in France, the Paralympic Games in Athens, and the London Paralympic Games to name a few where he has won medals from bronze and silver to gold.

In this episode we cover: 

  • Richard’s story of his disability and how he started to get involved with sports.
  • What is the T53 Category?
  • His story on being the first person in a wheelchair to umpire an AFL match for the Geelong Football League in 2007 and how he travelled the Death Road in Bolivia using his racing wheelchair in 2014.
  • His coaching and mentoring stint.
  • Richard’s goals and dreams for people with disabilities.
  • The workshop he runs for the NDIA.
  • His goals for himself.
  • Richard’s words of wisdom for listeners.

Links

Transcript:

FELICITY:

This is Episode 42.Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, Managing Director of Body Torque.

I have here today Richard Colman, who is a wheelchair athlete, playing sports ranging from basketball, athletics, and wheelchair racing, after being born with Spina Bifida. Richard is an ambassador for School Sport Victoria, a presenter with ProjectABLE Barwon Region with the National Disability Services, and a Committee Member for the City of Greater Geelong.

He currently works with the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Agency), and coaches athletes. Richard has competed in the T53 Category for Australia in the World Athletics Championships in France, the Paralympic Games in Athens, the IPC Athletic Games in The Netherlands, the Beijing Paralympic Games, the Commonwealth Games in India, the London Paralympic Games, winning various medals from bronze, silver and gold. 

Welcome, Richard.

RICHARD:

Hey Felicity, it's great to be here today. 

FELICITY:

Thank you for joining us. Tell us your story from growing up to where you are today. We'd love to hear. 

RICHARD:

Yes. I was born with Spina Bifida. So it's one of the most common physical disabilities going around. So basically my spinal cord didn't form properly before birth, but if I wasn't born with my disability, I wouldn't have achieved what I have today. So I'm very lucky that I was born with Spina Bifida. 

Growing up, I was just like any other kid. I was involved in all range of sports. I think I was pretty lucky that my school was a very heavily sport-oriented school, and I think that's why I got involved in sports and encouraged to try new sports andhave a go at everything. 

FELICITY:

Fantastic. So what sports were you encouraged to do and did you try?

RICHARD:

I pretty much did every single sport at school and I tried a range of sports,majority would tell you just probably wouldn't think were suitable.But yes, looking back now, I'm glad I did and had a goal on most of them and realized that athletics is my passion and got involved through the school, and then onto the local area athletics, and Little Athletics here in Geelong where I'm a member still today withChilwell. So Istarted in under 11s,and 20oddyears later I'm still a member so still going strong. 

FELICITY

Fantastic. Can you explain to us the distinction of the T53 category, Rich?

RICHARD:

Yes. So athleticsis broadening up througha range of classifications, so everyone with a similar disability competes against each other. So we've got the visual impairments to be in the teens, intellectual disability in the twenties, cerebral palsy is in the thirties, amputees is in the forties, and whichever are in the fifties. So I'm in the lowerof the para-classes,so it means I'm more disabled than most of the other guys. So it's basically where you don't have function really from the ribs down in the body, and so I compete in those, in the T53 class, in the 100 to the 800. Then we join up, with an open T53, T54 combined in the marathons in the 1500s.So anything in the distance, it’s open, and you just go and be first to cross the line.That's why I love it and yes, I'm moving up to that.

FELICITY: 

Right. So if you feel that it makes you more competitive doing that, you just have to be first to cross the line? 

RICHARD:

It's a differentstrategy, and yes, you've got more guys to race against. And it's going for more prestige, and there's a lot more option there is now and distance for us now.

FELICITY:

Fair enough. You've been also the first person in thewheelchair to umpire an AFLmatch for the Geelong Football League, that was in 2007, as well as travel down the Death Road in Bolivia in your racing wheelchair in 2014. That's pretty epic; what a daredevil you are. Let's talk about that. 

RICHARD:

Yes. So my coach here in Geelong who I've been with since basically, I started athletics, she's one of the fitness trainers for theumpireshere in Geelong and I was always going down and hanging out with them, the squad, really, who joined the umpires, and they train everyday with the umpires here in Geelong. And then some of the umpires were like, "Well, you're so fit. Why don't you come and be central umpire." And I couldn't quite get myself around it, because I was like, "Oh, that's another day of being fit and active." And I was like, "Yeah, no. I don't need extra exercise." And they said, "Why don't have a go and be umpire really." And I said, "Really? Yes. Well, that would be pretty cool." So I tried it and they’re like, "Yes, you're too good at this."

So I got involved and went to get through a lot of processes and approvals to get involved, but I'm glad I did because I had a great time, and got to see a lot of friends play for ball which I wouldn’t have done otherwise. So itwas great option to show thatpeople in wheelchairs can actually do these activities, and it was a great thing to break down some barriers in AFL. So I did that for a couple of years and then in 2014, in my offseason, I went to South America, and in the season tripafter the Commonwealth Games,I came back from Europe and then went to South America. So I’d heard from a friend who’s aLondon climate reporter that she had done theDeath Road on a mountain bike and it was a thing to do. So, I thought well, if she can do it, she’s been in hospital 18 times from accidents on the road. And I was like, well, if she survived, and she's not an athlete, how hard can it be? 

I didn't realize how hard it would be until I got to, I think it was Peru, where I was in Lima, and really the first few days of being in Lima, I saw a guy who had broken leg, and he was on his way home from the Death Road, I went, "Oh, maybe this is not the greatest thing to do." And then got up to Bolivia a week or two later, and when I got into Bolivia, my whole room, I got in, and there was, I think it was 5 out of the 6 in the room had injuries from the Death Road and I was like, "Yes, what have I got myself into?" and it became reality. It was actually pretty dangerous. I wasn't there to break records. I just did it, and did it as safely as I could, and I'm glad I did. I'm glad I survived. I've got some great photos from it to prove I did do it. It was my scariest, dangerous thing I've ever done. I did it in my race chair because; well I dohave footage thatI was in the race chair, so I did it in the race chair because it's my sport. It was the most dangerous thing I've ever done. And I was, every few minutes, I was like, "What am I doing? Why am I here?" But I loved the thrill of it and to go down the gravel road for 65 kilometers,is a pretty eye opener thing with a 1000 meter drop to the side with no safety and it was like, "Yes, this is very cool."

FELICITY:

Wow. Sounds a bit like, say an equivalent to the Paris-Roubaix cycling, you know, with all the cobblestones. But perhaps not as death-defying, how you described, and speaking of all those people with injuries. That would be a bit nerve wrecking going into it. If you rather say that at the end rather than before you started.

RICHARD:

Oh, yes. I will take the cobblestones any day.I've done a few races in Europe with past marathon were its just cobblestones the whole way.They're rough. You'll never love the cobblestones, but the gravel road is a different sensation. Its gravel and it was just roughas guards. I managed to get down, I blew a few tires and I destroyed a few gears. But I had fun. I've got some great photos, and the two accompany I went with who are really supportive and who are really encouraging. So I'm glad I did with them and we've broken down a few barriers. So now, it's on to the next fewchallenges on the tick off the list. 

FELICITY:

Definitely. And well done to you, Rich. Was ever a reason why you chose your race chair? Because I imagine when you say you broke, had a few flats, why you wouldn't use another chair? Like would you change that? 

RICHARD:

I think I did it just more because I'm known as in the racing chair, it's my thing, and I do that all the time. So I was like, well I've got skills in the race chair. I'm really skilled as a chair handlist, so I was like, "Well, it's probably the safest thing to do, and I've got chair skills so, yes, why not. I'll do it in the race chair.” Well, this is the hardest thing I'll ever do in a race chair. And yes, it was the hardest thing I'll do, even though I've done like the New York Marathon, nothing will compare to the Death Road. 

FELICITY:

Well. Well, I'm glad you’re here talking to us today. 

RICHARD

Yes.

FELICITY:

So besides being an athlete yourself and training yourself to prepare and compete regularly, you also have become a coach and a mentor, and you coach athletes to develop them and help them to achieve their dreams now. What does that involve?

RICHARD

Yes. So a few years ago, I've started coaching a few juniors, and I realized it has to be involved in the development of the sport, and develop, and get this sport better, and leave this sport in a better position than when you started it, and help the next generation. And I feel that helping and coaching the next generation has actually improved me as an athlete. I have a better understanding of the coaching structures and the training of why we do things. Finding that my training has actually improved because of that, but I am enjoying, loving work with the juniors, and yes, they’re not a really high-performance people like straight away. They’re not going to win gold in Tokyo. They're going to be long term. And that's what the focus is. It's developing, getting more people involved in sports, getting them active and involved because people with disability have got a high rate of inactivity and that's what I'm trying to change, get people involved in the sport.

It doesn't have to be high performance. It's just involving in regular activity. Be fitter, healthier, be more positive, and then helping them achieve their goals. Some people just want to get active and train once a week. Some people want to be a high performance and that's great. I've got a few kids who are really high performance and a few who are just there to lose weight or be active. So, really enjoying that side of things.I’m now back involved in School Sports Victoria, primary school coach where my very first team back in 1996 was on the primary school team as a 12 year old.So it's great to be back, and back in that environment in supporting the next generation.But yes, I've come a long way, and I've come a full circle with these teens, but I've got a few kids coming through the ranks and on the weekend was the Little Athletics Victoria State Champs and I’ve had a few kids from my squad there. So it’s now coming to winter and the road racing. We’ve got a few more joining the squad each week, which is really good to see.

FELICITY:

That’s fantastic. And you’d be a great role model for that, so, well done. You also do workshops for the National Disability Services and you worked with the NDIS. Is there any advice you can give people that helps them with people that have a disability?

RICHARD:

Yes. There’s a big thing in Australia, particularly here in Geelong, where Geelong is now the home of disability. We’ve got such opportunities here in Geelong. We’ve always have, but now we are taking it to the next level. We’re breaking down barriers every day. We’ve come so far, but we’re still got a long way to go in inclusion and advocacy for people with disability. We’ve got a long way to go, and I’m trying to help push people with disability to get out there and achieve their goals and dreams. And yes, some dreams may be crazy and hard, but that’s the point of having dreams. And I’m trying to help people, but I just want to get people involved in the community.

Unfortunately, we’ve got a high rate of unemployment. And people living with a disability living below the poverty line. I think it’s about 40 percent of the people with disability who live below the poverty line, even here in Australia. So it’s a crazy stat, and I’m trying to change that; get people active and believe in themselves. But then they’re also employed and try to get themselves sustainable and achieve being financially viable to be able to achieve their goals. So we’ve come a long way.

I also run wheelchair skills workshops teaching people how to use their day chairs in an independent environment. But also like, going up and down stairs; going up and down those crazythingsand try to be able to use their chairs and be independent to be able to go travel around the city by themselves. And because our cities aren’t always accessible, and they’re not going to be sickly around theworld, we’ve got lot barriers and you use your chair, then you’re going to be independent. And that’s what I’m trying to achieve.

FELICITY:

Yes. And give them the confidence that they can go and do things themselves, as well as, perhaps, be on adventure on their own.

RICHARD:

That’s it. And there should be no barrier for peoplegetting out there having a go.

FELICITY:

Absolutely. So you definitely approve that anything is possible. And to have a goal and dream big is one of your mantras. What’s your goals now?

RICHARD:

Well, I’ve got a few goals. I’ve got a few crazy ones. And I love people think that I’m a bit crazy as always, but I’ve got a few ones that are being promoted on social media, but there’s a few you always keep hidden away and some are short term goals, some are very, very long term, but I’m trying now always to get fitter, get healthier. I’ve got a few goals in the gym, got a few goals in the sport, I always got a goal of breaking a world record. I think I come second or thirdin the world record and being under it about 15 times and never once held the 800-meter world record even though I’ve won all these races.So that’s one goal. But who knows? I may never achieve it, but I’m working to achieve that, but I’m helping now. One of my goals now is to help somebody else achieve success in sports. So hopefully, I can help coach someone to be successful. We’re working towards that.

Now, I try to be successful in business, in sport and in life. But if it goes, I’ll be promoting that on social media and getting there. But always up for advice on what other crazy things around the world we can do. And always going, “Yes, I want to achieve this one. No, that’s too death, I don’t want to the die in the next challenge.” But I want to do some safely ones first and then we’ll look at a few other crazy ones.

FELICITY:

Yes. And you’re still doing cross fit, Rich?

RICHARD:

Yes, actually I had a good session last night in the gym at Cross Fit Grove down in Geelong and they are a great supporter of me. We’ve had a hard session, I’m feeling it today, but I’m doing that to get a bit fitter and try and do different things to get fitter, to be able to perform better on the track and it seems to have paid off lightly, but yes, I’m always trying new things to break down barriers to get fitter.

FELICITY:

Fantastic. Is there a funny story that you can share with our listeners today?

RICHARD:

I’ve always got crazy things happening around the world, but, I’ve always had fun and enjoy it but always just trying to do the best I can in sport, always got to realize this, what is happening around in your life and a lot of happening off the tracks. So, still trying to achieve success in both things. It’s never the end of the world if you don’t win, you’ve got to achieve success long term, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

FELICITY:

Fantastic. Well, I’d like to thank you for joining us today, Rich. It’s been fascinating hearing of your stories and especially about the Death Road in Bolivia. Perhaps that’s one I won’t put on my to-do-list. But people can find you on your website, which iswww.colman.com.au. And they can also find you on social media as you mentioned. So we’ll have all those details in our show notes. And I’d like to wish you great success in the future, one with your coaching and your athletes, and also being such a fantastic role model for people with disabilities. You’re really a very, a shining light, for those people and people like myself. So, thank you.

RICHARD:

Thanks, Feli. It’s a great pleasure to be on the show today. But also thank you to Feli and to the Body Torque team, this community sponsored, involving with me and my guys, and we’ve come a long way in the last few years, haven’t we?

FELICITY:

We have. You’re welcome. Thanks, Rich.

Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver the content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.




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