Paralympian Scott Reardon (centre)
Paralympian Scott Reardon's (centre) message to rural children is changing lives one step at a time. Image by Drew Chislett/AAP PHOTOS
  • education

Paralympian medallist inspires young rural Australians

Liv Casben July 8, 2024

When Scott Reardon lost his leg in a farming accident at the age of 12, the athletic youngster got on the track to Paralympic gold.

Ahead of the Paris 2024 games, where he’s coaching,  Reardon has hit the road to tell his story of resilience and the importance of being safe on farms.

At Yass High School in regional NSW, he uses some of the skills he learnt on the athletics track in front of an 80,000-strong crowd.

Paralympian Scott Reardon speaking to students at Yass High School
 Going to schools to talk about farm safety and resilience is a big part of Scott Reardon’s career. Image by HANDOUT/ICARE 

“No matter what I’m doing, I always go through the same breathing techniques I used to do when I stepped onto the start line at a Paralympic Games,” the champion sprinter told AAP.

While Reardon has won gold on the world stage, the 34-year-old says taking his message to schools is the most important work of his career.

This week hundreds of students – many of them from rural backgrounds – hung on the Paralympian’s every breath.

“It’d be a waste to experience what I have and not be able to give this back to the world,” he said.

As students passed his medals around the room, he knew how much weight his message carried with the young audience.

Students (L-R) Abby McEvoy, Bella Waters, and Brooklyn Riters
 Students (L-R) Abby McEvoy, Bella Waters, and Brooklyn Riters got a close look at one of his medals. Image by HANDOUT/ICARE 

Some are around the age he was when his shoelace got caught in a tractor, and severed his right leg through the knee, on the family farm in nearby Temora.

“If one person has done something differently to what they would have done if I hadn’t been in that room, then that’s a win for me.” 

Reordan’s message about safety at work and on the farm is part of a program of free talks provided by the NSW insurance and care government agency, icare, to try to stop accidents before they happen.

“Just check in with yourself, stop and breathe, think about what you’re about to do and then take the steps to be able to proceed if it’s safe,” he told AAP.

“It’s a message that they need to hear.” 

For 13-year-old Willow Larkham, whose grandfather also lost his leg in a farming accident, Reardon’s story hits home.

Student Willow Larkham with Scott Reardon.
 Yass High School student Willow Larkham says Scott’s message really hit home. Image by HANDOUT/ICARE 

The NSW teenager dreams of becoming a professional barrel racer, which is a rodeo event where riders and their horses try to run around barrels laid out in a pattern in the fastest time.

“If I got injured I would never give up that’s for sure,” the Year Seven student told AAP.

“He didn’t give up on his dreams and kept going, and then he made it to the Olympics.” 

Bill Phillips, 16, says he’ll think twice when visiting friends’ farms, especially around quad bikes. 

“I definitely agree that one person can make a change, and it just takes one person to be like, ‘no man slow down, wear a helmet’,” he said.

It’s exactly the sort of impact Reardon hopes to have.

“It is almost the responsibility of these kids … to be able to start conversations,” the Paralympian said.

“I’m just trying to make sure that I change their mindset.” 

Australia' Vanessa Low takes the Gold Medal at the 2020 Games.
 Rearson’s wife Vanessa Low, seen here at the Tokyo Games, is in the “best shape” of her life. Image by HANDOUT/PARALYMPICS AUSTRALIA 

Alongside his speaking work, Reardon coaches his wife, German-born double amputee long jumper Vanessa Low, who’s heading to the Paris Paralympics running from August 28 to September 8.

As Australia and the couple count down to Paris, gold is firmly in their sights.

“Vanessa’s probably in the best shape she’s ever been in,” Reardon said.

“It’s different to where we were in past years when we were going over to win – we’re going over to jump huge.”

At successive training sessions, Low has been breaking the world record for her class of 5 metres 33. 

“If she does that, I don’t think anyone will come close,” her husband added.