Aussies in Auburn: Australian Paralympic swim team trains on the Plains

When he was just seven years old, Liam Bekric was diagnosed with a visual impairment. He has tunnel vision which means he can’t see out of the side of his eyes. As a result, playing a team sport wasn’t easy.

"I was playing soccer and I kept getting tackled and in basketball I wouldn’t see people coming," he said. "So I decided I would go to a sport where there would be no contact and that’s how I became a swimmer."

He’s been swimming ever since and is now a part of the 2016 Australian Paralympic swim team. They’re a group of athletes who all have disabilities, but are also getting the chance to compete at an international event.

"When I was younger I thought I’d never be able to do it because of certain disabilities," said team member Paige Leonhardt. "But once you’re here and on a team, it feels really really good because you’re not just an individual, you’re actually a part of a team."

But the Paralympics are giving the athletes more than just a chance to win a medal.  The majority of the team had never been to the United States until most recently when the coaches chose to train at Auburn University.

"For us it was about getting ready and acclimatized to the time zone of Rio and just getting away and getting good preparation to get ready to race," said Team leader Adam Pine.

"The pool’s are great," added Leonhardt. "I love the indoor and outdoor pool and I’m just having a great time here."

The team spent nearly two weeks at the James Martin Aquatic Center and took their free time traveling around the city of Auburn. It was a trip of a lifetime as these kids got to see what college life was like in America.

"They’ve been getting around getting to all the University bookstores, buying all the Auburn t-shirts, and going to all the athletic department events," Pine said. "It’s been great and they’ve really enjoyed being on the campus."

For some, they’re hoping this won’t be the last time they visit Auburn.

"I’m kind of trying to hide from my parents that I want to move here," Bekric laughed. "It’s a lot better than South Australia which is kind of lonely and kind of boring, there’s not much to do. Here, everyday is a new adventure and we always find something new to do."

The Paralympic games gets underway on Wednesday, September 7th.

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