ASHLEY Adams is resting in London’s comfy athletes' village, taking in the views.
He concedes they’re pretty impressive but for the wily shooter, nothing compares to the red dirt and sweeping plains back home at his 64,000 acre property, about 1000 kilometres west of Brisbane.
Adams has farmed that land for as long as he can remember - even after a motorbike accident in 1982 left the then 26-year-old a paraplegic.
He took up professional shooting a few years later and went on to represent his country at five Paralympic Games, including London. Rio de Janeiro could be his sixth.
The laconic cattle grazier has made the most of his vast property, spending countless hours outside perfecting the skills needed to become and remain Paralympic material. He can’t imagine training anywhere else.
“There’s no place like home,” the 56-year-old said from London this week.
“I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.
“I’ve probably got the best shooting range outside Brisbane and Sydney and it’s right beside my bedroom. I think I’m pretty bloody lucky actually.”
Adams is convinced living in regional Australia has supported his sporting career. The same cannot be said for others.
An analysis of Australia’s Paralympic team has shown just a handful live outside the confines of metropolitan cities.
Despite a third of the country’s population living in a rural and regional area, just 28 members of the 161-strong team – roughly 18 per cent, are based in the bush.
Forty-five were born there but about half have since moved to bigger cities.
The proliferation of elite training facilities in larger cities, especially Canberra, has made it increasingly difficult for Paralympians to resist the lure of the capitals. A lack of disability-friendly sporting infrastructure in country towns is also partly to blame.
Australian Disability Sport executive director Tim Haggis said greater support and facilities at a grassroots level would help retain more Paralympians in regional areas. His organisation has been working since 2009 to help remove some of the barriers preventing the disabled from participating in sport.
In 2010, about 68 per cent of people with a disability participated in sport, compared to 79 per cent for people without a disability.
“It’s very difficult for small country associations to include people with disability in sport because they probably don’t have the facilities or understanding of what’s involved and that is where it (a lack of regional and rural Paralympians) would all start from,” Mr Haggis said.
The simple barrier of distance could be enough to turn some away from pursuing an elite-performance career.
In Adams’ case, flying to national competitions with a wheelchair and heavy equipment became so much of a hassle he now opts to drive the thousands of kilometres to get there and back. Skype and email are critical, to maintain regular coaching and support.
But on the upside, Paralympians born or based in the bush enjoy huge personal support others from the big cities may not.
Two-time gold medal winner Kurt Fearnley, who grew up in the small town of Carcoar in central NSW and now lives in Newcastle, has attained hero status in both.
In Carcoar, the wheelchair racer has had a park named after him and received ticker-tape street parades.
“We had a function for Kurt one weekend and the locals raised $10,000 in one night for a new wheelchair but we’ve been told one athlete in western Sydney ran the same sort of fundraiser and got just $1200 from the whole of western Sydney,” said Fearnley’s aunt, Anna Fearnley.
“Kurt’s a shining light for people out this way and there is a real buzz in town at the moment.
“Country towns can be pretty slow but once you have one of your own compete in a major sporting event like the Paralympics, everyone lifts and becomes really excited.”
Ballarat-born wheelchair rugby veteran Greg Smith, who now lives in the nearby Victorian town of Buninyong, was the flag bearer for the 161-member Australian Paralympic Team at last week’s opening ceremony in London.
Adams, who failed to snare a medal at the London games, will return to his property near Blackall later this month.
Australia is currently ranked fifth on the medal table.