Inspirational Will Clifton has an “oarsome” future ahead of him.
The 15-year-old student from Eileen O’Connor Catholic College at Lewisham is currently one of the world’s fastest rowers for his age group and training for the October Global Games in Brisbane, the largest sporting event for elite athletes with intellectual impairment in the world.
Four mornings a week the Year 10 student gets out of bed at 4am to train on the Parramatta River before heading to school. Weight sessions a few days a week after school are also part of his training program.
Will lives with autism and thrives on the strict regime needed to compete at an elite sporting level. Training, schooling and even his diet – which is gluten, sugar, dairy and fat free – is closely monitored and planned well in advance.
The young sportsman said he is blessed to be able to excel at rowing and can’t wait to compete at his first international competition.
“I am really excited for the Games but also pretty nervous as I only started rowing two years ago and am still pretty new to it,” he said.
“I just love getting out on the water and rowing, it’s so peaceful and somewhere I can relax.
“I don’t mind getting up early for training, I go to bed pretty early excited knowing I have training the next day.
“Competing in the Games is really exciting and I can’t wait.”
More than 1000 elite athletes from around the world will compete in the Games across 10 sports including athletics, cycling, swimming, cricket, tennis and rowing.
Will’s dad Peter said his son had taken to rowing like a duck to water and despite this being his first international competition is very much looking like the rower to beat.
And while he admits the early mornings and gruelling training regime can be a challenge, “seeing his son happy and achieving” makes it all worthwhile.
“Rowing has been tremendous for Will, it has helped him so much not only physically but mentally,” he said.
“Before he started rowing he was a very shy, young man who had difficulties communicating, but over the past two years he has become so much more positive and confident.
“He seems to do well in individual sports, running was his thing before rowing, so anything long distance really suits him due to his incredible endurance.
“Long term we think he will cross over to mainstream sport and hopefully compete against able bodied athletes in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“We are all very proud of him and what he has achieved despite the difficulties he encounters daily.”
Will enrolled at Eileen O’Connor Catholic College at the start of high school after struggling in his mainstream primary school.
The only one of its kind in the Archdiocese, the school offers a learning environment specifically for students with a moderate intellectual disability in a Catholic environment.
Established in 2016 with just 19 students in Years 7 to 10, it has now grown to over 60 students and will accept enrolments for kindergarten to Year 12 next year.
Named in honour of saint-in-waiting Eileen O’Connor, her strength, determination and charity serves as a constant inspiration for the students.
Peter said since moving his son to the school, he has very quickly found his place in the world and is happy, confident and thriving in an environment catering for all types of educational needs.
“He really hasn’t looked back since going to the Eileen O’Connor school,” he said.
“He is so happy in an environment he doesn’t find challenging or stressful.
“He does have challenges which we live with every day but we know he is in the best place he can be.”
Held every four years, the Global Games will be held from 12-19 October.