Tamsin Colley was the youngest athlete on the 2016 Rio Paralympic team, and now she’s a ParaMatilda (just casually). She’s definitely someone to watch.
Missing Perspectives sat down with Tamsin to discuss her international athletics career and transition into soccer, being selected to join the ParaMatildas, and competing in the IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships (spoiler alert: they won the gold medal - becoming the number one ranked team in the world).
Firstly, what was it like representing Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympics? Particularly as the youngest athlete on the entire team!
The experience was so incredible. I got a late call-up offering me a spot in the Paralympic team about two weeks before the Games were kicking off. I was in Year 8 at school at the time, so had a lot of work to do during the Games. I actually had to spend a lot of time during my schoolwork at the village. I was the youngest athlete on the team, and also got an opportunity to do a live interview alongside the oldest Australian Paralympian. I didn’t really feel like I fit in due to being so young, but I had so many great memories like celebrating my fourteenth birthday in the village where the Australian para-athletics team threw me a surprise party!
In my 200m race, I unfortunately fell over right before the finish line but picked myself up and went over the line - and I think it really showed my resilience, which is what the Games is all about.
When did you start getting into soccer?
I had played a bit growing up, recreationally and with a disability soccer team, but it wasn’t necessarily competitive. It wasn’t specifically catered to people with Cerebral Palsy like me and there was no pathway into competitive soccer, so I stopped and focused on athletics for a bit. But in 2022, the ParaMatildas team and more opportunities for female athletes with CP to play competitive soccer emerged and I was eager to have a go.
I knew some people involved in that, so they helped point me in the right direction. Last year I signed up for the Football NSW female CP training days, which was awesome as there aren't many opportunities for people with CP to play near me. Some local soccer clubs were reluctant to take me in because of my disability but I thankfully found an inclusive club Hurlstone Park Wanderers who I’ve been enjoying playing for ever since!
Overall, soccer has a long way to go in terms of inclusion but it is definitely improving, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had with it including getting to play with the ParaMatildas!
What was it like being selected for the CommBank ParaMatildas - especially as a team that's number one in the world?
It was just so amazing, I went to a selection camp early last year and I was just glad to get the opportunity to attend that. I wasn’t expecting to get into the team for the Asia-Oceania Championships but was so grateful that I did and determined to make my country proud! It was actually at Hannah Diviney’s book launch that I found out that I got selected for the team.
I had been motivated by watching the ParaMatildas play at the 2022 IFCPF World Cup. It was great to see other people with CP like me competing and showing what people with disabilities can achieve! Now that I can be part of this team, it’s something I never take for granted.
What was it like winning the Asia-Oceania Championship trophy?
The ParaMatildas were created in 2022, so this tournament was their first one on home soil. I was so excited and nervous going into my first international football competition, even though I had represented Australia before in athletics. The team was so welcoming and encouraging of each other and me, the sole debutant on the team. I managed to score a hat trick on debut and came away with four goals across my first two international games. Everyone played really well, and it was such a supportive environment and winning the trophy was one of the highlights of my life so far.
What do you think the impact of the 2023 World Cup was on women's sport - and also the ParaMatildas?
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup had a massive impact on women’s sport! I went to a few games to see the Matildas play, and the atmosphere was so good - I felt so inspired. And it was so amazing to play with the ParaMatildas in the 2023 IFCPF Asia-Oceania tournament after the Women’s World Cup. It was great timing as everyone was still so excited to be watching football and seeing women represented in competitive football environments, which extended to those with disabilities. Young people with disabilities and their parents even came up to us saying thank you for making their kids feel seen which was really special.
Overall, 2023 was very empowering and had such a huge impact on representation of women’s sport, for those with and without disabilities.
What should we keep an eye out for this year? What's in store for you?
This year is looking to be really exciting. I’m looking forward to watching the Olympics and have my fingers crossed for the Matildas! I also have some friends who will be competing in the Paralympics so I’m really excited to cheer them on from home. The Paralympics is such an incredible event and there's momentum growing about the event every time it’s hosted. In November, there's the 2024 IFCPF World Cup for ParaMatildas and Pararoos, and I'm hoping to be selected in the ParaMatildas team for it. Either way though, I'm looking forward to supporting the team in Spain regardless of if I’m playing or watching from home!