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HSC success in face of adversity

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James Tirado receives the Brother John Taylor Memorial Prize PHOTO: Sydney Catholic Schools

Overcoming obstacles difficult to imagine, James Tirado  turned a challenging HSC year into a triumph – and is now on track for Paralympic glory.

James Tirado has cone-rod dystrophy and visual acuity of 6/60.

This means he sees with the same clarity most people see across 60 metres in just 6 metres, and is very sensitive to light.

Despite this, he has turned a challenging HSC year into a triumph – and is now on track for Paralympic glory.

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The Marcellin College Randwick Year 12 graduate has received the 2021 Br John Taylor Memorial Prize, awarded each year to a student who overcomes adversity to achieve academic success in the HSC.

James received an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) of 99.5 and placed in the highest bands for subjects including Economics, English Advanced, Physics, and Mathematics Extension 2.

“I basically wear sunglasses a lot,” James said.

 “In an exam I would have lower light levels to optimise my performance”

During 2020 James also dealt with the loss of his father, who died of a brain tumour in May.

“When we would speak about the HSC, even when I was in year 7 and 8, I’d stress and worry a bit and he’d go ‘You’ll be fine, you’ll get 99’,” James said.

“He was always the one who believed in me so I think he’d be very happy and proud knowing that did come to fruition.”


James said the support of his teachers and peers was integral to his achievement.

“I was really lucky to have such great teachers,” he said.

“They weren’t just talking about the content; they had developed a really strong relationship with the students and you really felt that it was a partnership and they were helping us be as prepared as we could be.

“Some questions you would sit for hours on end. It was very rewarding when it clicked” 

“As soon as the bell would go, we’d go to the library and study and help each other with notes. It made a hard year for me a lot smoother.

“I felt I had a lot more confidence going into the exams knowing the countless hours we had put in together.”


James now balances a double degree in Law and Commerce at The University of NSW, and trains six days a week in the NSW Athletics Talent Program.

He holds the Under 16 and Under 18 Australian Record in T13 for the 800m. His next goal is to compete in the 400m sprint at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

“The T13 race is very competitive internationally,” James said.

“There is only a 3 second difference between the world record able-bodied and world-record vision impaired. Considering how much vision impairment affects your balance on the track, it’s quite remarkable.

“It’s a lot to work towards to be competitive with them, but I think with continued hard work I can get there.”

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