With one foot, two charities, a 5.5m long jump and a fistful of medals and records, Paralympic Athlete Sarah Walsh may be one of the most impressive young talents to come out of Sydney Catholic Schools.
The St John Bosco College Engadine graduate was born with fibular hemimelia, which meant Sarah was missing the fibula bone her in leg and had a small foot. When she was just 18 months old, her parents made the decision to amputate her leg just below her right knee.
At seven years old, Sarah began her work with Limbs 4 Life, a non-profit organisation empowering amputees with knowledge and support to make a real difference.
“Sarah’s amazing! A truly amazing young lady,” said Melissa Noonan, CEO and founder of Limbs 4 Life. “A pillar of the community, she is forever giving and helping others.”
With their help Sarah spoke to her classmates at her primary school, St John Bosco at Engadine, during Amputee Awareness Week about life as a young amputee, beginning a life of working with and inspiring other amputees.
“We believe no-one should have to go through limb loss alone,” said Melissa. “When Sarah started with us it was so she could share her story, raise awareness and try to help others.”
A few years later while in Year 3, Sarah fell in love with athletics.
“The teachers at school were very supportive,” said Sarah. “I was encouraged just to be a normal kid, not let it hold me back.”
When she was 10, Sarah won her first state championships in sprinting, running with a wooden leg that had a fixed foot and left her in incredible pain.
Sarah was lucky enough to get a custom-made running blade made for her and spent the next five years winning more competitions than I have room here to mention.
She first represented Australia at just 15 years old. In 2014 she was youngest person invited to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in long jump, an event she had previously only competed in on the side.
Sarah and her family continued their work with Limbs 4 Life, with speaking events and personal visits and calls with amputees, their families, and the parents of children born with fibular hemimelia.
“We’re very proud of what Sarah has achieved,” said Sarah’s mum Trish. “But we’re more proud of the person she has become.
“None of this was handed to her, she’s worked hard to get there. We are proud of her work ethic, her approachability, her humbleness. She’s done herself proud.”
At 17, now a full-time long jumper, Sarah competed at the Rio Paralympic Games, placing sixth and setting a new Oceanic record of 4.82m. She came back home and began her HSC exams just three weeks later at St John Bosco College.
“We were all immensely proud,” said Damien Carlton, Principal at St John Bosco College. “We all stopped to watch her event in Rio. We’re proud of what she has achieved, and what she continues to achieve.”
In November 2019, 20-year-old Sarah competed at the World Championships in Dubai, hitting a huge 5.20m jump and taking third in the competition.
Now, Sarah lives and studies in Canberra, training and working at the Australian institute of Sport where she works tirelessly with coach and former Olympian Matt Beckenham to achieve her dream of earning a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
In Canberra Sarah works as an ambassador for Lifeline, to support people in crisis and save the lives of those experiencing thoughts of suicide, and continues to contribute to Limbs 4 Life. Sarah’s campaign, “Dare to Stare” run through LIFE: Living Intentionally for Excellence, raises awareness for limb differences and limb loss.
“I can see when people looking or wanting to ask about it but they’re afraid it’s rude,” said Sarah. “It’s better when people ask. Raising awareness will make it easier for other people dealing with limb loss”
Sarah says she was lucky to go through her school years with great friends and no bullying, but not everyone is so lucky.
“The campaign encourages people to have a look,” says Trish Walsh. “Don’t be embarrassed, start a conversation.
“Ignorance leads to bullying. The more you educate people, the more they will educate others. It can make a huge difference.”
Between studying, her job, and her community work, Sarah still has to find time to train.
Her current PB sits at a massive 5.47m, just 0.5m short of the World Record. With her third place in Dubai, a huge PB and six months of training and competing to go before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games, Sarah’s well on her way to achieving her dream.