Like some of you, I’ve been glued to the television each evening watching some of the best tennis in decades being played out at the Australian Open.
There are new up-and-coming players beginning to make their mark and none more so than the South Korean, Heyon Chung, who defeated a number of players on his way to the semi finals, including his idol, Novak Djokovic.
At the age of six, a doctor advised Heyon to take up tennis to help improve his weak eyesight. Little could they have imagined then, where that decision would lead. How many people with poor eyesight would dream of setting out on a career in tennis or even contemplate that at just 21 years of age, they would defeat Djokovic in the Australian Open? He is inspiring a generation of young people in South Korea to imagine what might be possible.
Then there was Dylan Alcott in the wheelchair tennis at the Open. He was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord. During surgery to remove the tumour, his spinal cord was damaged. He had 15 operations before the age of four. Life hasn’t been easy and he endured a lot of bullying, but he credits his resilience to his family who refused to wrap him in cotton wool and treated him like any other child.
He took up tennis when he was 10 and switched to wheelchair basketball at 17. He became the youngest wheelchair basketball gold medallist at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. In 2013 he returned to tennis and won his first grand slam title at the 2015 Australian Open and numerous titles since then. He became the Australian Open champion for the fourth straight time this year.
In a post match interview, Dylan said his disability had given him opportunities he would not have had any other way and he wouldn’t change his life for anything. He gets the privilege to be a role model for disabled children everywhere and show them what is possible in life. He sees himself as an athlete who just happens to use a wheelchair and hopes that is helping the community at large to view disability differently.
And different is what he has become. He had every intention of becoming a high school English/History teacher but when someone challenged him about the dire need for mathematics teachers, he took on the challenge and has just been awarded the Australian Local Hero of the Year award for his services to education and mathematics in particular.
When one of Eddie’s students was diagnosed with cancer and was absent for long periods due to chemotherapy, Eddie started recording his lessons and putting them online at Wootube so his student could keep up. The channel now has way over 4 million viewers, due largely to his infectious enthusiasm and unique way of teaching students to understand mathematics.
Adversity is the thing most of us will avoid at all costs but these three people remind me that when embraced, adversity becomes a door that can lead us into places we might never have chosen to go.
There is a choice. We can fight adversity and let it "cripple" us or we can accept and embrace it and allow it to shape us, and the direction of our life.
These young people have been an inspiration to me this week. Not that I have to navigate the huge challenges they have overcome, but age brings with it struggles and limitations I would rather avoid. Some of those are hard to accept, leave alone embrace, but acceptance is the key to becoming more compassionate, available, and other-centred.