November 18, 2013
He has won a silver medal at the Special Olympics for swimming, swum to Rottnest 10 times, and now he is tenpin bowling for Australia.
Despite the fact young Western Australian athlete Greg Black has an autism spectrum disorder he has a ‘can do’ attitude and a desire to excel at sport. After enjoying success in swimming he is fired up to win gold for Australia in tenpin bowling at the first Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in December.
More than 2500 athletes from 32 Asia Pacific nations will descend on Newcastle, NSW for the first week in December to compete in nine sports. It is the largest-ever sporting event for athletes with an intellectual disability held in the southern hemisphere.
Greg, 23, from Edgewater is taking his place in the Australian team alongside 400 other athletes with intellectual disabilities.
I meet Greg at the Challenge Stadium cafeteria. The staff and patrons have left for the day, and Greg is waiting for his training session with Superfins WA. Greg’s father David and his sister Courtney have come along to support him, forming a protective guard. Two of his swim club friends are sitting close by. They are pretending to read the newspaper but I catch them smirking at their much-loved training partner, looking forward to an opportunity to tease Greg later.
Apparently, Greg (pictured) does not say a lot unless you get him on to something he feels passionate about.
“I hear you are a mad Hawthorn supporter, Greg?”
This gets his attention.
He flashes a cheeky smile, brushes his long dark fringe away from his face, gives his sister a playful tap and announces: “Yes, I am, and I love (recently retired Brisbane Lions player) Simon Black.”
Greg’s sister Courtney, 21, says her brother spends hours on the internet looking up sporting results, mostly AFL. “He loves statistics and figures, he is amazing with numbers,” she says.
Greg’s successful sporting career started with swimming.
David felt it was important that Greg learnt how to swim to ensure he was safe around water.
“All parents look out for their children, but when you have a child like Greg you tend to pay even closer attention to their safety as they have less awareness of the dangers around them,” he says.
Greg joined Superfins WA, a swimming club for people with physical or intellectual disabilities, when he was 14. It wasn’t long before he started competing.
David says: “I remember his first meet clearly. He was in six events and he was disqualified in five. As hard as that was on a kid, he never repeated the same mistakes again. Having a disability doesn’t mean you get to escape the rules of swimming, and sometimes you learn the hard way – just like any other kid who swims.”
Greg’s interest in tenpin bowling began two years ago when he was introduced to the sport by some swim club friends. He initially saw it as an opportunity to spend more time with his mates, but soon discovered a natural talent and was quickly on his way to success. In the 2013 Special Olympics State Championships, held in October, Greg won gold in the doubles, silver in the individuals and bronze in his team events. At Warwick Super Bowl he plays in a league every Saturday afternoon and trains on Tuesday nights.
“I love competing and I love to win,” he says.
He is quick to let you know just how good he is, and why not?
“Last week at bowling I got a turkey. That’s three strikes in a row,” he says.
Janice Saunders, the president of Superfins WA, says Greg has been a great ambassador for his swim club, Western Australia and Australia.
“Greg represented Australia at the Special Olympics in Athens in 2011, where he won silver in the 800 metre freestyle,” she says.
“He has also completed the Rottnest swim with the Superfins WA relay team for the past 10 years. He has recently joined Masters Swimming Australia and competes against able-bodied swimmers.
“Greg embraces life. Greg and the Superfins are a great group of young people who enjoy hanging out together.”
David says Greg has performed well against able-bodied swimmers with Masters Swimming Australia. He has been able to hold his own and continues to prove what an amazing young man he is. This year he broke the Masters state record for the 18 to 24 year old age group in 200m breaststroke. He is also the winner of the 2012 WA Masters Open Water Champion for 18 to 24 year olds.
“Ever since Greg started competing in swimming he has had the determination to achieve. He is independent and strong willed and will chase his opposition down,” David says.
Greg says he doesn’t know if he will compete at an elite level in swimming again. He plans to concentrate on his tenpin bowling and will stay with the Superfins to maintain his fitness. “Once you miss a few training sessions with swimming you lose all your fitness. Your body hurts and it’s so much harder to go back. I hate swimming when I’m not fit,” he says.
Alex McNeilly, general manager of marketing and corporate relations at Special Olympics Australia, says the games are a great opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities to represent their country.
“To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability such as autism spectrum disorder or other cognitive delay, or a development disability,” Alex says.
“Greg Black is very talented and he is really looking forward to participating in the tenpin bowling competition.
“I know Greg is confident and I believe he can pick up gold for Australia.”
This story was written as part of Curtin Journalism’s Feature Writing unit.