Home Australia ‘Dreams never die’: Nikki Ayers embraces gold medal favouritism for Paralympics

‘Dreams never die’: Nikki Ayers embraces gold medal favouritism for Paralympics

0 comment
Two Australian rowers compete for world titles in Belgrade

According to Paralympian Nikki Ayers, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Wallaroos, “dreams never die, sometimes they just change.”

Ayers was a top-level rugby player until she suffered a serious knee injury in a pre-season match in 2016.

“I dislocated my knee and in that process tore a major artery, possibly a nerve, and developed compartment syndrome,” he told ABC Sport at the recent Australian Rowing Championships.

Ayers endured 16 surgeries before it was suggested he try para-rowing.

“I got on the boat, fell many times and kept going. It gave me a goal, something to work towards,” he said.

She quickly improved and was selected for the Australian team for the 2018 World Championships and then for the Tokyo Paralympic Games in the mixed foursome team.

But a change of boat has taken her to new heights and on her way to Paralympic gold.

When it was announced that the PR3 mixed double sculls would be added to the program in Paris, Ayers moved from Canberra to Adelaide to team up with Jed Altschwager.

Their results in 2023 were extraordinary: they broke the world best time twice, won the World Championships and were named World Paralympic Rowing Team of the Year.

“Looking back at the trauma and experience that I had and being able to turn that into something so positive, it just opened this incredible door and opportunity,” Ayers said.

“Now I can call myself world champion and also the best record holder in the world.

Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager competing at the World Rowing Championships.(Twitter: World Rowing Championship)

“It’s very surreal, but it’s just a reflection of me as a person, my resilience and how I’ve adapted.

“And also the support of my family and friends who have brought me here and made me realize again and again that they believe in me and that I just need to believe in myself.”

Ayers recently won the single sculls and mixed double sculls at the Australian Rowing Championships and is now focused on Paris.

“The expectation is to go there and know that when we are on the starting line for the playoffs and then, hopefully, the A final, we have done absolutely everything we could at home and that will allow us to cross the line first and bring us to home that gold medal.

death race

Two rowers carry another rower on their shoulders. The rower on his shoulders raises a trophy.

David Bartholot (center) and Marcus Della Marta (left) will team up for the men’s double sculls in the final Olympic qualifying regatta.(Supplied: Remo Australia)

Most of the members of the Australian Olympic team have already been selected, but one of them, if he wants to reach Paris, will have to face the so-called “Regatta of Death.”

Sydney University duo Marcus Della Marta and David Bartholot will contest the final Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, in May, where they will have to finish in the top two in the men’s double sculls.

“You could sit there and think about who you have to compete in and all that,” Della Marta said.

“But it’s quite simple, if you give your best performance, and that’s not enough, then at least you’ve given your best.

“I am sure that what we have been able to produce so far will be enough.”

Both athletes hope to make their Olympic debut in Paris and for Bartholot, 28, it would be the culmination of many years of trying.

“My goal was always to go to the Olympic Games and this is my opportunity,” he said.

“So I’m giving it my all and Marcus is very excited, he’s young, he’s hungry.

“I always had it in my head about 18 months ago… if I worked hard, I might have a chance,” Della Marta said.

“And to have the opportunity with Dave to go and do the double is very exciting.”

Unique approach

Rower Tara Rigney is rowing in a single sculls event.

Tara Rigney is a two-time World Championships single sculls bronze medalist.(Getty Images: Adam Nurkiewicz)

Tara Rigney competed in the women’s double sculls at the Tokyo Olympics, but has been selected in the single sculls for Paris.

The 24-year-old has won two consecutive World Championships bronze medals in this event.

“I think it’s a pretty technical boat, but I also feel like I enjoy the challenge,” Rigney said.

Rigney is pragmatic about her chances and faces two-time world champion Karolien Florijn of the Netherlands.

“(She’s) incredibly fast, her parents are Olympic athletes and gold medalists,” Rigney said.

“So I think she’s the one to beat this year and I’ll do my best to keep her.”

Rigney hopes to emulate one of her idols, Kim Brennan, who has Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals.

“I think she’s a great athlete, but also a great person,” Rigney said.

“I think that’s honestly what’s really important, and I just strive to have their dedication and skill.”

You may also like