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#79 At the top of their game

With huge sports events, like the Sochi Olympics and the US Super Bowl hitting our screens right now, we have been discussing athletes who have made it to the top of their game in their chosen sport. Those who, with the right support, a little bit of lateral thinking, and open-minded teammates and coaches, have excelled in mainstream sports.

It seems we don’t hear enough about this niche group of elite athletes, so we thought we'd highlight some incredible success stories and talented sports people that represent more than just their country.

Natalie Du Toit – Swimmer

In 2008, South African swimmer, Natalie Du Toit became the first amputee to compete at the Olympic Games. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were the first to include a 10km open water swim event, something that Natalie recognised as an opportunity to level the playing field.

Natalie realized that in the open water marathon, without having to deal with tumble-turns and with less emphasis on the starting dive, her possible disadvantage was diminished. She finished 16th out of the 25 women who qualified and has marked her place in history.

David Smith – Volleyball

In the 2012 Olympics, the US men's volleyball team adopted the "David Smith Rule". Essentially that meant, when David wants to take a shot, he takes it.

David Smith was born nearly Deaf and has been wearing hearing aids in both ears since he was about 3, a feature that hasn't stopped him performing at the top of his sport – the US Men's team was ranked 5th in the world in 2012 and have consistently ranked highly during his volleyball career.

With a little bit of adaptation on the part of his team, an open minded coach and a firm on court strategy, the team have adapted to work with his access needs and excelled because of it.

Derrick Coleman – American Football
Derrick Coleman became the first Deaf offensive player in the NFL, playing fullback for the Seattle Seahawks. Derrick has about 60-80 percent of hearing with his hearing aids in and around 20 percent if not.

In his college days, he struggled with his hearing aids falling out during big tackles or important plays. After trying a range of solutions, his innovative mother cut up a pair of stockings to wear on his head and cover his ears. This helped support the aids during play and led him to be known for this clever work around.

With the recent release of a Duracell commercial, Coleman has become a role model to many. He's found that his hearing doesn’t cause many problems for him and has adapted to solve any issues if they do arise. If he cannot hear the quarterback over the noise of the crowd and the field he lip-reads instead.

Coleman wants to be a positive influence to the hearing impaired community. "That's why I always talk to kids, and I'm glad to be in this situation because I can help," Coleman said. "I get to be a role model for everybody else."

There are, of course many more wonderful examples that we haven't covered, such as Natalia Partyka, from Poland who competes in Table Tennis; South Korean, Im Dong-Hyun, a competitive archer; the controversial South African olympic runner, Oscar Pistorius; and John Kirwan, who battled depression during his All Black career.

Maybe one day there will just be one Olympics where everyone can compete… rather than two separate events!

We'd love to hear about any more access athletes competing at the top of their fields we may have left out, let us know if you can name any others by emailing campaign@beaccessible.org.nz or posting to our Facebook page.