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Hugo, 22, faced many challenges growing up. Now he’s smashed three world records

When Hugo Taheny was growing up on a farm in South Australia, he started going to Little Athletics with his four siblings just for something to do.

Now, age 22, he holds three world records in discus and shot put. He travels 1000km every week to train and compete, and regularly visits schools to teach kids the importance of staying healthy.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Point Turton local, who has Down syndrome and advocates for better awareness of the challenges disabled Aussies face.

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“I want to open doors … and educate people by showing them that even when faced with adversity, you can work hard and use resilience to achieve great things,” he told 7NEWS.com.au.

Hugo travels over 1000 kilometres each week to train and compete in Athletics.  Credit: Supplied

Taheny set his world records at the Virtus Global Games in Vichy, France, in June, throwing the shot put 11.98m and discus 32.95m.

Yet with limited government funding due to the nature of his disability, he fears opportunities are being lost among the 4.4 million people living with disability in Australia.

“As an athlete living with an intellectual disability, it has been a challenging journey,” Taheny said.

“Many are unaware that this is the situation, and I want to help to make a change so that all athletes are able to access the same opportunities.”

Raising awareness

Taheny is an ambassador for International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD), which falls on December 3. He said that until relatively recently, the only opportunity he had to compete in discus and shot put was in the T20 category, which broadly caters for athletes with intellectual disability.

“In 2019 Australia recognised the II-2 category — a classification specifically for athletes living with Down syndrome which enabled a more level playing field,” Taheny said.

Yet as an athlete in this category, Taheny says he is not eligible to compete at the Paralympic Games. He also can’t benefit from the elite South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) training programs or SASI Individual Athlete assistance, which helps fund athletes.

“Nor am I eligible for any government funding other than an annual Australian Sports Commission Local Para Champions grant of up to $1000,” Taheny said.

“As an IDPwD ambassador, it is important for me to raise awareness about this inequality.”

IDPwD Ambassador Giancarlo de Vera Credit: Supplied

Fellow IDPwD ambassador Giancarlo de Vera said there was no single depiction of “what it means to have a disability”, with young disabled people in particular facing “enormous pressure to conform to ableist standards and norms”.

“We should be encouraging all young people – not just young people with disability – to identify, grow and nurture their strengths,” they said.

Grand plan

Even though Taheny said he “processes things differently to others”, at competitions he must still check in, wait independently and organise his equipment without a support person as able-bodied athletes do.

“This all takes a lot of mental energy before I even start to throw, it’s pretty tiring on my body,” he said.

Taheny also doesn’t regulate heat as efficiently as some, which caused significant problems during his record-breaking run in France.

“Competing in France recently, I suffered heat stroke and several of my fellow competitors collapsed due to the heat,” he said.

Despite these challenges, Taheny is single-mind in his pursuit of green and gold glory — and wants to realise his dream on the biggest stage of all.

“I love competing for Australia and making my family, my country and my community proud,” he said. “Sport helps me to be the best person I can be, and it helps me to inspire and encourage others.

“My greatest wish is to light the cauldron at the 2032 Brisbane Olympics!”

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