How the Games changed for para-athletes
LAKEISHA Patterson is eager to step up as a resonant voice for the cause of para-athletes to help fill the void left by the retirement of wheelchair marvel Kurt Fearnley from major Games.
The wave of admiration and awe that transformed perceptions of people with disabilities was one of the uplifting successes of the Commonwealth Games because there was a genuinely inclusive vibe on the Gold Coast.
Patterson won two gold medals in the pool but the Caboolture swimmer, nicknamed Lucky, has a far wider view of para-sports just as Fearnley captured so well again after his marathon gold on Sunday morning.
"Kurt has definitely been a big part of paving the way for what para-sports have become in Australia and he's been inspiring for me and all those other strong athletes who have overcome hurdles," Patterson, 19, said.
"I want to play my part to keep promoting inclusion after all the wonderful messages I've received because I definitely don't think of myself as disabled but as uniquely able."
It wasn't just the 63 Aussie para-athletes swooping on 15 golds that elevated the goodwill but competitors like blind para-sprinter Ananias Shikongo, who took inclusion to another level as Namibia's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.
He could sense the wonderful surge of support, if not see it, after losing one eye to a bow-and-arrow when his brother was shooting for birds and another to the kick of a donkey as a child.
Patterson is studying architecture at the University of Queensland to have a full life after her swimming which has benefits every day for the left side of her body affected by cerebral palsy.
"Swimming gives me a pain-free day, the water is a magical place to relax with the calm I feel moving in the water," Patterson said.
Swimming medallist Ellie Cole, who lost her right leg to a rare cancer, said the reach of TV and fans watching was transforming because she was never able to see para-athletes compete to have early role models.
"The messages I really love have come from parents of kids with disabilities who say their child has just lost a leg to cancer and they want to be like me because they see us on TV because I never had para-athletes I could watch," Cole said.