Tennis legend, Paralympian and activist Dylan Alcott has made history by becoming the first Australian Of The Year with a disability.
The 31-year-old athlete was visibly moved after winning the prestigious award, given to him for his achievements in sport and his advocacy for people with disabilities.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair my whole life … I’ve known nothing but having a disability,” he said in his acceptance speech.
“If I’m honest with you, I can’t tell you how much I used to hate myself. I used to hate having a disability. I hated being different.”
He continued: “Whenever I turned on the TV or the radio or the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me. And, whenever I did, it was a road safety ad where someone drink drives, has a car accident and what’s the next scene? Someone like me in tears because their life was over.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s not my life’, but I believed that was going to be my life. But I’m so lucky that I had one of the best families, some of the best friends, my beautiful partner and my whole team who told me that I was worthy.”
Alcott also dedicated part of his acceptance speech to healthcare workers across Australia who are working tirelessly on the frontline as the country battles with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last two years have been so tough on so many people and I feel honestly ridiculous being here,” he said.
“To our front-line workers, our nurses, our doctors, people running our vaccines, ambulances, firefighters, you deserve this much more than a guy who hits tennis balls and loves talking. I really mean that. It’s such a huge honour.”
Lastly, Alcott paid tribute to our outgoing Australian of the Year for 2021, Grace Tame, activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
“Tame, you are fierce and I love it,” he said.
“You have done so much for your cause and if I could be one-eighth of the Australian of the Year that you were, I think I’ve done my job.
“When I won the US Open I skolled a beer out of my trophy and you said, ‘If I got to pass the mantle over to this guy I’d be honoured. But we have to skoll the beer together’. Give me a couple of days and then we can do it. Not just yet,” he laughed, referencing the fact that he’s still in the midst of competing at the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Alcott has won 23 quad wheelchair grand slams, and he became the first male in tennis history to win a Golden Slam (winning all four grand slams within a year, as well as winning gold at the Olympics).
In 2017, the activist founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which provides scholarships and grant funding to marginalised Australians with a disability.
He also launched AbilityFest, which is Australia’s first and only inclusive, fully accessible music festival.
Australian’s across the country were thrilled with his win, with iconic TV journalist Lisa Wilkinson writing on Instagram: “Such a brilliant choice…after Grace’s incredible year. And what a brilliant acceptance speech…already calling government to account on the NDIS, RAT tests, inclusion, and the like. Another Australian of the year who is going to use their platform as a force for good. Bravo!”
Olympian Giaan Rooney also shared her excitement for Alcott, writing: “So well deserved – a sporting profile that is changing lives! Congratulations Dylan!!!”
We couldn’t agree with these statements more—here’s to a glorious year ahead for Dylan.