Elizabeth Wright is a former Australian Paralympic athlete, winning three medals – two bronze, one silver – in the S6 swimming category at the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games. Currently resident in the UK, she is a professional public speaker and motivational coach and has recently published her autobiography, Ditch the Arm, Keep the Leg.
Can you tell us about your upbringing?
I was born missing half my right arm from about the elbow and half my right leg, so I wear a prosthetic leg to get around. I’m missing a finger on my left hand, and my thumb and one of my fingers is fused. This was the very late 70s, when there was still the expectation that a disabled child would go into a home, a special school or somewhere like that. My mum was sent a social worker to help her deal with my disability when I was born, but my mum was of the attitude that she’d had two kids already and loved me no matter what, so she didn’t really need anyone telling her how to deal with it.
How did you first get into swimming?
We had a pool in our back yard, which came to give me a kind of freedom. I could do more in the pool than I could on land, and from that my love of swimming and experiences with racing grew. I was 13 when it was announced that Syndney would be hosting the 2000 Games, and that was a a decisive moment for me. I was watching the announcement with mum and dad at 3am, turned to them and said ‘I’m going to swim at those games.’
What’s the most treasured memory you have from your sporting career?
Winning my silver medal in the 400m freestyle. Beating the world record holder, having all my family there in the crowd – it was a really special moment that I’ll never forget. I don’t think I stopped smiling for about a week!
What motivated you to write Ditch the Arm, Keep the Leg?
Over the past couple of years I’ve been working as a motivational and inspirational speaker, doing a lot of speaking at schools, and I’ve often had staff and parents asking me if I’ve written a book, because they’d love to know more. That’s been the kick up the backside to actually get it written and out there. The title comes from when I tried wearing a prosthetic arm as a child and absolutely hated it – I lasted about three days, I so quite literally ditched the arm but kept the prosthetic leg.
How did you get started in public speaking and coaching?
When I was still swimming I did quite a bit of public speaking in schools to promote the Paralympics. I finished studying when London 2012 coming up, I thought I’d get back into speaking, started approaching schools and it’s just grown from there. I’ve been doing it for about two years now, growing a reputation among schools and colleges, and hopefully inspiring kids to get out there and achieve great things.