Paralympian Daniel Michel and Ashley McClure’s road to Rio

Back to blog10 months ago by Renee
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Paralympians Daniel Michel and Ashely McClure
 
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At just 21, Daniel is the first person to represent Australia in Boccia at the Paralympic games since 2000. He and sports assistant Ashely have their eyes firmly on gold.

The road to Rio for Daniel stems back as far as he can remember. He has been a sporting enthusiast his whole life with a dream that one day he would compete at an elite level.

“My ambition ever since I was really young, since before I could remember, was to play sport competitively. I (recently) viewed a home video of when I was four years old. I was watching a game of football on television and I was right into it,” he said.

As he watched that home video Daniel realised that his passion for sport was something he always had, a familiar part of his being. “I’ve always been a keen sports follower and it’s in my blood.”

Daniel had resigned himself to channelling his love of sport through supporting his two younger brother’s sports endeavours. Then, by accident, he found Boccia.

“I initially thought it would be one of the sports I wouldn’t be able to do, and I’ve tried lots of sports in the past like wheelchair rugby and soccer. Basically you name it, I’ve tried it.”

“So when Boccia came along, I was keen to watch and learn because I hadn’t heard of it before.”

“All of a sudden I realised that straight off the bat this was a sport I might be able to do. I got behind the ramp, started playing and was like, hang on, this is actually possible.”

“It was like I’d been liberated. It was a weird feeling because my mind was opened to this new possibility, something I thought was never possible. In a split second the impossible suddenly became possible.”

Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Sports Development Manager Peter King with his team were running the Boccia program at a local sports camp that Daniel was attending and it was clear to them all from the start that this boy had talent and potential.

“Peter was talking about how it was a Paralympic sport and I thought this is a real opportunity for me.”

“When my Mum picked me up on the last day Peter told her ‘your son has potential, he could do really well.“

“For the first 12 months (following the camp) I bought a ramp and a set of balls, and did a bit of training at home. I went to a couple of junior titles and did pretty well – I came third in my first competition and took first in my second attempt.”

“That motivated me to do more training. Then I competed at the State Titles and National Titles and came fourth at both events.”

“This first National Titles competition is still one of the most positive experiences I’ve had in Boccia. It was so exciting to be in an elite sporting environment.”

“That week spurred me on. I trained really well, got a new ramp and my determination grew. Boccia is the one thing that I’m most motivated about in my life.”

For Daniel, his sporting assistant Ashley has been a big part of his preparation and success. He thinks of being in a team with her and will share the podium with Ashley should they take a medal in Rio.

The pair were introduced after a chance meeting when his Mum was asking around for a sporting assistant. Ashely had just returned to Australia after a six month ski trip to Canada for her Grandmother’s 100th birthday. While home, she was working casually as a support worker at an accommodation centre. At the end of her first shift she took a moment to say goodbye to her manager, who just happened to be speaking to Daniel’s Mum. She explained the situation to Ashely, who is a keen sportsperson and can often be found on the AFL field.

“Ashley said she would give it a go and started training with me a couple of days a week. We competed in the Asia and Asiana Regional Championships that year and were hooked.”

Since then, the pair have been training together five days a week at Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Allambie campus under the watchful eye of our Boccia trainers. They have become a formidable pair and are medal contenders at the Paralympics.

“Ashley is as invested in this adventure as I am. We both really wanted to be in Rio, to compete and also bring home the gold medal,” Daniel said.  

“To be able to win there are a couple of things you need; perfect equipment – the ball and ramp have to be really good, and a strong focus on the fundamentals when training – the different shots, the calibration and all that sort of stuff.”

Daniel and Ashely have spent hours perfecting their game, analysing their potential opponents and even attended an elite training camp in Hong Kong.

“The last month has been good. It’s been organised and well-coordinated, structured, and obviously really busy with lots of hours on the court,” Daniel said.

“Last month we had a training camp in Hong Kong where we got plenty of match experience against some of the best players from around the world.”

“We have directed our training at very specific games we are going to play. Just today we decided to do the entire Rio walk through so we play each game against simulated opposition, we were trying to get as close as possible to the games that people would be playing.”

Daniel was looking forward to touching down in Rio and settling into the Athlete’s Village before hitting the court.

“We’ve got an hour and a half training session arranged every day in the week leading up to the competition start date, with the Opening Ceremony on 7 September.

“We will sit down and watch the pair’s competition, and then I’ll be up next, competing in the individuals competition. Normally when we go to a competition we are go, go, go, whereas this time we have a few days to acclimatise, do some training, and relax before we go out and compete. It’s ‘go’ time from 13 September for us.”

Daniel is also mentally preparing for the big competition.

“When you are trying to do your best and competing at an elite level it’s tough to back yourself all the way because you do realise at times you are playing against the best players in the world,” he said.

“That thought can play in your mind, you get caught up in it and you do think am I really good enough to be here.”

“It’s something that you struggle with all the time and I think it’s just a matter of staying in the present and making sure that you do the best that you can.”

“And that all comes down to your preparation. Be prepared and we have prepared really well.”

“You’ve just got to go out on the court and play one ball at a time and do your absolute best with your playing and the results take care of themselves.”

“That’s kind of the way that I look at it.”

“Those thoughts of doubt will always be there but you have to let them come and go as they wish and make sure that when you are on the court you are doing your best with every ball, Daniel said.”

Good luck Daniel and Ashely. We will be looking for you at the Opening Ceremony and hoping to see you on the podium taking home the gold medal. To all our Australian Paralympians, we wish you the best of luck.

 

For more information about Boccia at Cerebral Palsy Alliance contact Contact Peter King pking@cerebralpalsy.org.au or Stacey Foster sfoster@cerebralpalsy.org.au

 

For more information about the Rio Paralympics visit https://www.paralympic.org/