Triathlon squad increases Katie’s fitness and confidence

Triathlon squad increases Katie’s fitness and confidence
Posted on Wed 21 Mar 2018

Katie joined the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Junior Triathlon Squad in 2017 and her mother, Melissa says the benefits “have been truly amazing”.

Katie learnt to ride a bike, gained the self-confidence to give a speech and has improved her diet – major life skills that Melissa had not expected.

The first five years of Katie’s life was fraught with challenges. She has been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But at only two years of age, medical specialists found a brain tumour in her cerebellum and about three months later they discovered a tumour in her hypothalamus.

“Three surgeries and 14 months of chemotherapy later, just before Katie’s fifth birthday we officially finished treatment,” says Melissa. “During this time, Katie was also diagnosed with hydrocephalus and associated partial absence seizures and had a shunt put in to relieve the pressure in her brain.”

The end result is that Katie, now 11, has difficulties with gross and fine motor skills, coordination and balance. In addition, low muscle tone makes physical activities a challenge and her swallowing and speech have been affected.

In 2010, Melissa and Katie attended Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s (CPA) Ryde centre so Katie could see a speech pathologist to assist with swallowing and speech.

After a year of therapy, the results were good and in 2013, Melissa became involved with CPA as a corporate volunteer via her employer, Surgical Specialties. She ended up volunteering for the CPA sports program, including the Junior Triathlon Squad under the guidance of Peter King, Manager Sport Development.

“Katie had come with me on a Saturday morning to help volunteer with the squad,” Melissa says. “During this time, the fabulous Peter King gently coaxed her into giving it a try.”

Gradually Katie’s involvement grew and Melissa was grateful and impressed with the results. “Katie’s confidence, fitness and stamina improved. She rode a bike for the first time ever! She’s swum 150 metres on her own! She has then used this sense of ‘I can do it’ to go on and compete in her school swimming carnival for the first time in the 50-metre freestyle and 50-metre breaststroke.”

But the results haven’t been confined to physical skills.

Public speaking and diet changes

A proud Melissa says Katie also gave a speech to her school class – another first. “We really feel that this has come about as a result of the confidence she gained in the triathlon squad.”

And an unexpected bonus has been Katie’s willingness to improve her diet. “She has quite severe sensory processing issues. When it comes to food; taste, texture and smell are all a huge challenge.”

But Katie’s urge to do well in triathlons meant she was willing to expand her diet in order to gain more energy for the event. Now there are two new items on her dinner menu – wholemeal pasta with parmesan cheese and grilled cheese toast. “It’s very exciting,” says Mum.

Peter King explains that the triathlon squad trains at the Allambie Heights campus.  “There are friendly races at the Ron Patrick Pool and around the safe car park area of Arranounbia School. Athletes aim to improve their own ‘personal bests’, and follow this up with the fourth leg, a delicious recovery breakfast.”

Katie developed her skills and confidence over five preparation races held between October and January, with the training culminating in Katie competing in the Sydney, Canberra and Central Coast Weetbix Try-athlons.

Katie was among the nine-strong squad that went to Canberra with their families in February and stayed overnight at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). They were also taken on a tour of the AIS facilities and rubbed shoulders with Paralympic stars in the AIS food hall.

Social benefits for mother and daughter

Some 800 kids participated in the Canberra try-athlon but the CPA athletes did well. “I was impressed when the irrepressible Katie went on to complete the Central Coast Weetbix Try-athlon the very next weekend,” Peter says. “She is a true ‘Iron Women’ of the future.”

Katie says she loves being a member of the triathlon squad because it gives her opportunities to do the different sports – running, swimming and cycling. “I love crossing the finishing line to get my medal. But most of all I like seeing my friends when we train at squad on a Saturday morning, and giving each other high-fives to keep going.”

Like Katie, Melissa enjoys the social aspects of the triathlon squad. “The opportunity to meet with parents whose kids are facing similar challenges to Katie has been lovely for me. There’s a great sense of shared pride in seeing all the kids do their best and it’s a very supportive and nurturing environment for everyone.”

Programs such as the CPA Junior Triathlon Squad can be funded by the NDIS under Increased Social and Community Participation.

The triathlon squad is in its winter break but will start again in October. To register your interest please phone Sally Winchester on 1300 888 378.

To see video of Katie and Melissa and Katie competing in the Central Coast Weetbix Try-athlon go here.

Written by Head of Reserach at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Reserach Institute, Dr Iona Novak and published in Source Kids 12 December 2019, this article brings you the latest on how to maximise child development through neuroplasticity. 

The Pararoos play their first match on home soil since the 2000 Paralympic Games this month. And you're invited! 


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