Win or lose, local Paralympian Jacqueline Freney is already a winner.
Jacqueline, 16, of Skennars Head, was born with cerebral palsy — diplegia (which affects the movement of the body, mainly the legs) and her parents were told she would have a lot of difficulty walking, participating in sport or any physical activity and that she would require years of therapy.
“They were right, but that wouldn’t stop this competitive spirit from achieving her dreams,” her mother Joanne said.
Jacqueline grew up at the pool. Her parents, Michael and Joanne, have managed public Olympic pools in Brisbane and Casino over the past 20 years. They left this week for Beijing.
“As an infant, Jacqui was a real water baby,” Joanne said.
“She has practically swam every day of her life.
“Jacqui couldn’t walk until she was three years old but the water was excellent therapy for Jacqueline’s condition.”
Jacqueline has touched down in Beijing and she likes what she sees.
“Jacqueline flew out on August 22 to Kuala Lumpur to meet the Australian Paralympic Swim Team. She is now in Beijing and has been training at the Water Cube,” Joanne said.
“She said it’s really really nice and the Olympic village is huge, like a town.”
Joanne said that Jacqueline learnt to swim by paddling around in the learners pool. She would walk around the pool with the water supporting her.
“It was where she had freedom from her disability and could be active like other kids. That’s how her love for the water started. She could never get enough of it,” Joanne said.
“Living at the pool, Jacqueline’s life has been influenced and inspired by some of Australia’s great swimmers and role models.
“Jenny McMahon (Commonwealth silver medallist) and Kieren Perkins (Olympic multi gold medallist) would dote over Jacqui as a toddler before and after swimming training and Siohban Paton (Paralympic multi gold medallist) and Angela Kennedy (50m world record holder) were coached throughout their swimming careers by Jacqueline’s grandfather, Peter.
“Jacqui loved to have her photo taken with their medals around her neck. It definitely made an impression on her.”
When Jacqueline first started squad training with her dad/swim coach, she would struggle up and down the pool trying to keep up with the other swimmers, but she would never give up, never give in, Joanne said.
“Six years later, it’s that determination that has made her the athlete she is today,” she said.
“She challenges herself every time she gets in the pool, whether it’s in training or competition.
“In training her dad has to hold her back and tell her to slow down or not to go out too hard.”
At the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games Jacqueline will be competing in her classification, S8, against a strong international field, like Jessica Long (USA’s Athlete of the Year, Paralympic multi gold medallist and multi world record holder) but Jessica Long isn’t Jacqueline’s toughest competition — it’s Jacqueline Freney, according to her mum.
When Jacqueline stands on the blocks at Beijing, she knows that over the past four years, she has trained harder and with more intensity than any other female swimmer at the Paralympics and that she has done all she can to be the best she can be,” Joanne said.
“She also knows that it’s her love of swimming and her championship spirit that is the winning combination to achieving her dreams and fulfilling her destiny.
“Medal or not in Beijing, we are so proud of her, she’s inspirational.
“At only 16, this is only the start of her swimming career. She has a fantastic future ahead of her. Before she flew out, I told her to ‘enjoy the journey, you’re in the for the ride of your life’.”
Jacqueline will be competing on:
Mon 8 Sept 100m Freestyle.
Fri 12 Sept 400m Freestyle.
Sun 14 Sept 50m Freestyle.
Coverage on ABC TV.