Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Brenden Hall on losing his leg at six, and why swimming is such an important part of his life. By Richard Cooke.
Swimming’s lessons: Brenden Hall, 24, swimmer
I have just come off a four-year cycle for the Paralympics. And I am starting to rebuild. It’s three- and-a-bit years for the next one. Tokyo is definitely on the cards for me, and I am now getting ready for the Commonwealth Games next year. Then everything follows on from there.
The most I have off after a Paralympic Games is probably four weeks. At the end of that four weeks I start to get very bored with myself. I sort of have to get back into it anyway. During that four weeks I am always doing some sort of exercise: gym, ocean swims, walks, runs… I become a bit lost if I’m cut off from physical activity.
I lost my leg at a very young age. Through chicken pox at the age of six. I had just started learning to swim – I had just got into the junior swimming squad before I lost my leg. I was working my way up and I come from a biggish family and I just loved being in the water, whether it was a pool or the ocean.
After I lost my leg, being in the water just made me feel normal. I didn’t really see myself as having a disability. It was like an even playing ground with me and everybody around me. That’s why swimming is such an important part of my life. It made me who I was even before I became a Paralympian.
The complication that caused my disability is very rare. I don’t really know the numbers around it, but it was a very rare case and it is not often that you see people presenting with it.
It is a bit of a weird story, I guess, compared with some of the usual circumstances or cases that are within the Paralympic team. It’s always surprising when you see the look on people’s faces after you tell them that’s how it happened. You can understand through that that it’s not very well known.
In that team environment, where everyone’s got their own story, once they know what happened it’s like, “Yep, cool.” They sort of accept the fact and there is no further mention of it.
When I go and talk to schools or clubs, the reaction from parents is really interesting. Older kids who might have had chicken pox in the past, they all of a sudden get the realisation that it could have been a lot worse.
One question that sticks out the most… when I told them the whole story of going into hospital and all that sort of stuff, and how obviously I wake up with my leg missing. Young kids will ask, “What did it feel like when they were taking your leg away?” That sort of thing? You become stumped as how to answer that sort of question. The only response is to be honest – I was asleep, so I didn’t feel a thing. They don’t really understand the whole concept of going under anaesthesia.
A lot of kids are surprised I have the abilities that I do. They come up to me and say, “I don’t know what I would do if I lost my leg. I don’t think I would be able to do that.” They are usually a couple of years older than I was when I lost my leg, and they are heavily involved in the AFL or soccer. They can’t imagine not being able to go and run out onto the footy field with their mates.
Would running prostheses back then have made things different? I was definitely not what you call a land-based animal. I am better moving in the water than I am on land. If I’d had access to a running blade earlier on, who knows what would have happened, and I’ve only just been introduced to one a year ago. I love being able to have that little bit of a run here and there. It’s really fun sometimes.
What’s the biggest thing in my life outside of sport? A good question – it’s hard to answer when everything I do is so heavily involved with sport. My university degree – I am coming to an end of that this semester and it’s been exercise and sports-related.
A sports science degree definitely changed the way I see my body. Especially when I started learning about all the muscular components. How the body works, how particular injuries are caused, and all the muscles and everything involved with it. It has definitely changed my approach and outlook.
I just enjoy being able to go in and talk to kids in schools or clubs and hopefully motivate them. Whether it’s one word or one sentence that gives them, I guess, a little spirit to go out and do whatever they want to do. Then that’s good enough for me.
This week’s highlights…
• Horseracing: Cox Plate Day
Saturday,12.10pm (AEDT), Moonee Valley Racecourse, Melbourne
• Netball: Fast5 World Series
Saturday, 1.45pm, Sunday, 12.15pm (AEDT), Hisense Arena, Melbourne
• Swimming: Australian Short Course Swimming Championships
Saturday, finals 7pm (ACDT), SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre, Adelaide
• Motorsport: Malaysian MotoGP
Sunday, 6pm (AEDT), Sepang International Circuit
• Soccer: A-League – Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Victory
Sunday, 7pm (AEDT), Central Coast Stadium, NSW
• Rugby league: World Cup – Australia v France
Friday, 8pm (AEDT), Canberra Stadium, ACT
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 28, 2017 as "Swimming’s lessons".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.
Letters & Editorial