From a Moonee Ponds athletics track to Tokyo Paralympics: How Maria Strong won bronze with the support of inclusivity advocates Polytan and Disability Sport & Recreation

As the world’s leading business dedicated to the design, construction and maintenance of sports facilities, Polytan aims to empower athletes to achieve their very best. Thanks to Polytan’s renewed partnership with Disability Sport & Recreation (DSR), inclusivity and accessibility continue to be a priority in the design and construction of all their sports facilities. Together with DSR, Polytan is working to enable athletes of all abilities to reach their full potential.

One athlete who has trained and performed on Polytan surfaces is Maria Strong. They recently won bronze in shot put at this year’s Paralympics in Tokyo. Maria’s athletics journey began as an Official at the Australian Athletics Championships in 2017. At that event, Maria participated in a seated throws workshop conducted by John Eden – the then National Para Throws coach. A few months later, they were training with his squad at Casey Fields Regional Athletics Track in Cranbourne. The track was almost two hours away by public transport from Maria’s home. At that time, it was the only track and field facility in Melbourne that catered for seated throwers.

But in 2019, Polytan resurfaced the Aberfeldie Athletics Track in Moonee Ponds and recommended the addition of hold-down points for seated throwers as part of the upgrade to the track. This meant Maria no longer needed to travel the very long distance to Cranbourne, allowingmore time for training and less time commuting.

Maria initially took a light-hearted approach to the sport, but it soon became apparent that they had incredible talent and skill. As the training and competition intensified, so too did the stress level and the impact on their mental health.

“My mental health has been pretty terrible through much of my high-performance career so far, which certainly didn’t help,” Maria explains. “But I found the routine of training helpful. I forced myself to show up, day after day. No matter how miserable I felt at the beginning of a training session, I almost always felt somewhat better by the end.”

Maria was reluctant to represent Australia at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. However, they smashed the Oceania record and missed out on a medal by a mere 5cm. After the Championships Maria contemplated retirement. However, their coach had other ideas. In January 2020, Maria started training for Tokyo, which at that time was only 6 months away. It was also the beginning of a world pandemic.

Training throughout Covid-19 lockdowns was incredibly difficult for Maria. Like many athletes, they had to train via video link. “I had some less than spectacular competitions in the first half of 2021, which upset me, and I considered quitting on multiple occasions. But somehow I kept going, all the way to Tokyo and won a Paralympic medal at the unlikely age of 50,” muses Maria.

Maria acknowledges that winning bronze at the Paralympics is one of their greatest achievements. But, they are most proud of the determination to keep going over the past two years— no matter how hard things got. “I’m honestly prouder of that than I am of my Paralympic medal.”

Maria is also actively involved in the local community. When not training for major events, Maria is a swimming instructor. They have worked in after-school and school holiday programs as a volunteer athletics coach and in disability advocacy. Maria has also swum with a Masters club and sung in choirs and musicals. They also like to dabble in quirky photography and art. “I value community, volunteering, coaching and officiating as much as I value running fast or throwing a heavy metal ball a long way,” Maria adds.

Polytan is pleased to once again partner with Disability Sport & Recreation as a major sponsor of their upcoming Awards. “Polytan continues to be committed to designing and constructing sports facilities that deliver exceptional performance qualities, are environmentally sustainable, and importantly, are accessible and inclusive of people of all abilities,” comments Paul Kamphuis, General Manager, Polytan Asia Pacific.

“We are delighted to continue our partnership with Disability Sport & Recreation who advocate and strive to give Victorians with disability equal opportunities to meaningfully engage in the sport and active recreation of their choice. This is a common goal that we share. Quite simply we want to make sport accessible to everyone.”

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