At 31-years-old, Dylan Alcott’s resume is an incredible one. A beloved athlete and Paralympian, Alcott is also a philanthropist, media commentator and advocate known for bringing greater visibility to disability, raising awareness and changing perceptions of what it means to be disabled. On the court, we’ve watched as Alcott has asserted his dominance in tennis, all with his trademark humility and camaraderie for fellow players. But off the court, Alcott has excelled as a man passionate to see others dream big.
For Alcott, big dreams have defined his career and now, he’s made history by becoming the first person with a visible disability to be made Australian of the Year in the award’s 62-year history. A reward and recognition that is much deserved, here are five reasons why Alcott makes the ultimate Aussie of the Year.
He speaks his truth
Speaking at the Australian of the Year Awards ceremony, Alcott expressed the struggles he experienced mentally and emotionally when growing up, a result of lack of representation of disability in the media and sporting fields. “I’ve been in a wheelchair my whole life. I was born with a tumour wrapped around my spinal cord that was cut out when I was only a couple of days old. I’ve known nothing but having a disability, and if I’m honest with you, I can’t tell you how much I used to hate myself. I used to hate having a disability. I hated it so much, I hated being different and I didn’t want to be here anymore. I really didn’t,” said Alcott.
“Whenever I turned on the TV, or the radio or the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me. And whenever I did, it was a road safety ad where someone drink drives, has a car accident and what’s the next scene? Someone like me in tears because their life was over. And I thought to myself, ‘that’s not my life,’ but I believed that was going to be my life.”
He founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation
In 2017, Alcott founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation to provide scholarships and grant funding to marginalised Australians with a disability. The charitable organisation is committed to helping young Aussies with disabilities overcome the barriers of entry to sport and education by providing fundraising grants, scholarships and mentoring.
He transformed the music festival
Alcott also founded AbilityFest, the nation’s first and only fully accessible music festival. Where music festivals traditionally have seen those with a disability barred entry either due to the fact that the grounds aren’t accessible or there’s no support at certain venues, Alcott instead created an event that celebrates disability, with ramps, elevated platforms and pathways, a dedicated sensory area, quiet zones, companion ticketing and accessible toilets.
He changes perceptions
Dylan added: “I love my disability. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. It really is, and I’m so thankful for the life that I get to live…I love the person that I am and the life I get to live and I’m the luckiest guy in this country, easily. But I know for the 4.5 million people in this country, one in five people that have a physical or non-physical disability, they don’t feel the same way that I do and it’s not their fault. But it’s up to all of us to do things so they can get out and be proud of their disability as well and be the people they want to be.”
As he concluded his speech, Dylan added: “My advice is to you, non-disabled people. It’s time for you to challenge your unconscious biases, leave your negative perceptions at the door and lift your expectation of what you think people with disability can do. Because it’s always more than you think.”
He’s the ultimate sportsman
Alcott has won 23 quad wheelchair Grand Slam titles and a Newcombe medal – awarded to the most outstanding Australian tennis player in a given year. In 2020, he became the first male – in any form of tennis – to achieve a Golden Slam, when he won the Quad Singles at the US Open. He will now compete for his eighth Australian open title in what is said to be his retirement match, offering the star athlete the chance to end his career on the ultimate high. Regardless of whether he does or doesn’t, it’s safe to say that Alcott’s career is an illustrious one with a legacy that will continue to live on and inspire countless people around the world.