Zac Harding wearing his Australia uniform, posing for a photo at a running track.
This article was originally published in the Daily Liberal newspaper 27 May 2024

15-year-old Zac achieves his green and gold dream

When Zac Harding was younger, he like most kids watched the Olympics and Paralympics in awe, dreaming of one day representing Australia.

Now at just 15 years old, the Narromine local will get his chance on the world stage, having been selected for Australia’s Para Team to compete at the Oceania Athletics Championships in Fiji.

Classified as a T36 parathlete, Harding has cerebral palsy, a condition which affects both of his arms and legs while also having hearing impairments.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like competing for Australia and going up against all of the big kids,” the teenager said.

Harding’s condition also means he has balance problems, meaning he can fall on track at any point.

After being told their son had a one-in-1000 chance of brain damage during several trips to Sydney in his infancy, Harding’s mother, Tanya couldn’t help but wipe tears from her eyes as she spoke about her son.

“I’m immensely proud beyond words,” she said.

“A lot of people come up and talk to you but you have no words. You can’t express the pride you are feeling for this little boy whose future was so uncertain, to now be in green and gold is just amazing.”

Now trained by Mark Penman, Harding will compete in the 100m, 400m and Long Jump for Australia. He will also take part in other events independently.

Harding will be one of several youngsters on the national team who will give coaches a good chance to see how they perform heading into a busy four years with one eye on the Los Angeles Paralympic Games in 2028. While he still has a way to go yet, Harding’s mother said she still can’t believe her son has come so far so soon.

“He had the green and gold dream,” he said.

“We didn’t think he would be 15 and wearing it. If you asked him he would say yes because he always believed in his ability and his dream.

“But as a parent not at all.”

Before heading off to Fiji on May 28, Harding wished to thank several people including former coach Tim Long.

“I’m very proud,” he said.

“Thank you to everyone who has supported me so far, I’m grateful for everything that I have.”

Zac has been supported by Cerebral Palsy Alliance in Dubbo his whole life. A multidisciplinary team of therapists including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology have worked together to help Zac reach his goals.

Speech pathologist, Lucy Packer describes Zac as a determined, kind, entertaining and down-to-earth young man, who aims high and gives 110% to all tasks.

I knew of his athletic talents and love of the outdoors and couldn’t quite see how speech therapy would be high on his list of priorities. How wrong I was. On our first meeting, Zac announced proudly that he wanted speech therapy to help him be more social and make friends. At that point, I knew our sessions together would be a hoot.”

Our sessions were broken up with running races, that I begrudgingly participated in and lost every time, and card games, that I always seemed to lose. Incorporating an element of fun allowed for greater focus and Zac succeeded in every task I put before him. His interest in the ‘why’ we were doing certain exercises ensured the therapy delivered was evidenced-based at every stage.”

He is a dream client, and I am proud of what he achieved during our sessions. I am extremely grateful that I won’t be competing against him in France – the other runners don’t stand a chance. Go Zac!


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