Madison de Rozario and Ben Tudhope both started their Paralympic careers as children, with big hopes and even bigger dreams.
They have transformed from youngsters with potential to Paralympic medalists, world champions, respected role models – and now the Paralympics of the Year 2020 and 2022.
Wheelchair racer de Rozario was recognized for her two gold medals (T54 marathon and T53 800m) and her bronze medal (T54 1500m) at last year’s delayed Tokyo Olympics.
“When you think about what the price actually means, it goes beyond just performance,” de Rozario told ABC Sport.
“And I think of the individuals who are part of this Paralympic team. It is absolutely the highest privilege.”
Tudhope won the 2022 Award for his bronze medal-winning performance at this year’s Beijing Winter Paralympics in the snowboardcross SB-LL2.
“To take home a medal just shows the hard work and dedication,” he told ABC Sport.
“I can’t wait to get going now, and I’m just hungry for more.”
The Rosario conquers everything in Tokyo
De Rozario made her Paralympic debut as a 14-year-old in Beijing 2008 and by the time Tokyo 2020 finally came around in 2021, she was ready to peak.
She won her first Paralympic gold medal in the 800m, but the marathon was the ultimate prize and delivered a breathtaking finish to become the first Australian woman to win the distance.
“The last moments of a race, you almost give the reins to your body, you’re like, ‘You know what you’re doing,'” she said.
“And so, when you cross that line, it’s a bit of a bizarre out-of-body experience.
“So this is unreal. I look at this team and I really love them so much. This is a family to me and I grew up in this world.”
De Rozario is one of the most recognized athletes on the Australian Paralympic team and embraces her status as a role model.
Tudhope’s triumph in Beijing
It was the bronze medal that felt like gold to Tudhope in Beijing.
Like de Rozario, he began his Paralympic journey as a 14-year-old, at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he even earned the honor of carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony after an incredible top-10 finish.
He went to Beijing as the co-captain of the Australian team, still only 22 years old, and the brightest medal contender.
He followed the four-man field for most of the big snowboardcross final, but shot home at the finish to take the bronze.
One of the enduring images of the Games came as he hugged Finland’s gold medalist Matti Suur-Hamari and Canada’s Alex Massie.
Known as “team unicorn”, the trio have a special bond as the only snowboarders from their respective countries.
“And I’m so glad I had those guys with me because I really wouldn’t be able to pull this off and go to Beijing without the support of my team,” Tudhope said.
“We went through very difficult times with the death of one of our coaches and that was a very sad, grueling moment.
“But with his passing, we knew we had a job to carry on as he will be the first person, Mikko..” [Wendelin]to tell us not to stop.
Di Toro and Fearnley among other recipients
One of the biggest cheers of the evening went to Danni Di Toro, the seven-time Paralympian and co-captain of Australia’s summer, who won the President’s Award for respect, honor, honesty, modesty and integrity.
Curtis McGrath was named 2020 Male Athlete of the Year for his two gold medals in the para-canoe in Tokyo, while de Rozario’s mentor, Louise Sauvage, was Coach of the Year.
Five athletes were inducted into the hall of fame: Priya Cooper (swimming), Kurt Fearnley (athletics), Libby Kosmala (shooting), Michael Milton (alpine skiing), and Matt Cowdrey (swimming).
Cyclist Stuart Jones won the Uncle Kevin Coombs Award for the spirit of the Games for putting his race on hold to cheer on South African Toni Mold when she struggled in the women’s road race.