Para-triathlon gold medalist national championship inspires community

Proud father and son, Bradley McMeeken and Jayce McMeeken showcasing the Triathlon National Gold Medal. Picture: SHAMSIYA HUSSAINPOOR.

Shamsiya Hussainpoor

Often it can be difficult to find activities, social groups, and sports for young people with disabilities, but Bradley McMeeken has stunned everyone with a reminder that anything can be achieve with determination and hard work.

Prior to finding his way to competing in triathlons, Bradley was struggling to lift his arm above his head.

Today, he is holding 78 medals – with his national gold medal being the top of his list and a great leader to his school.

Bradley is in Year 10 at Yarra Ranges Special Development School, and he was recently voted as the school captain.

“The school is giving him a lot of leadership opportunity including reading the welcome to country as well as helping to run the canteen for the teachers,” Bradley’s father, Jayce McMeeken said.

Bradley was born with a learning disability but was diagnosed with a rare form of cerebral palsy at age 10 by a doctor.

Typically, cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage in the first few months or years of life, or problems with blood flow to the brain due to stroke, blood clotting problems, abnormal blood vessels or a heart defect that was present at birth.

Brad was placed into a global gene study, which found he’s got a unique gene that didn’t come from the mother or the father but found in people with cerebral palsy.

With the help of $3000 orthotics funded through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which need to be replaced twice a year because he is still growing.

He has worn his ankle foot Orthodics for years, and his parents ensure he wears it every day for at least one hour when stretching.

He also visits physio and orthotist appointments regularly.

Bradley overcame the tightness in his calves and ankles which made running difficult, discovering his passion for exercise.

He is no average 16-year-old, despite the difficult journey he has walked, he has never given up on hope or his dreams.

Only a few years ago, Bradley could not walk without falling over (always on his toes), severely arched back, couldn’t ride a peddle bike, couldn’t raise his right arm, muscles extremely tight, and couldn’t swim.

Thus far, Bradley has won 78 medals which includes, eight fun runs (five km each), seven national championships, 14 state championships, 12 triathlons, four aquathlons, two duathlons, three kilometre cross country, 800m track and 1500m track.

Bradley has successfully participated in in the following events, Athletics Australia Para classification – T35, track events for Yarra Ranges Athletics Club, Melbourne Inner East Special Olympics club, and Inclusive Sports Training (all abilities triathlon club).

He has shown determination not only on the running tracks and in the water but also just about anywhere he has set foot on.

Mr McMeeken is a proud father, not mere for his son’s incredible sports achievements but because of the young boy his son has become – kind, gentle, grateful, and just full of life.

The 16-year-old has done the triathlons, but he enjoys the aquathlon more.

“Three strokes, breath in one side and three strokes, breath the other, he does that well with a freestyle” Mr McMeeken said.

“When he doesn’t go to his triathlon club, he goes to Monbulk with his mum and they do about 1.3km session twice a week.”

In March 2023, just an hour before the team photo was scheduled, Bradley broke his arm.

“An innocuous thing fell over in the 50 metres finish line, broke his arm, but he got his medal and went to the hospital,” Mr McMeeken said.

In November 2023, just six months after his injury Bradley went back to the place where he broke his arm and completed the triathlon at the Elwood beach.

“It was so brave [of him] to show up and do that despite the choppy water,” he said.

“He told himself to be strong, did the swim, came out of the water looking strong; and we’re very emotional to see how far he’s come.”

“If someone hurts themselves in a particular place, generally it would cause a memory that may hold you back, but for Bradley, he doesn’t hold himself back goes back in because he knows it was just an accident and it won’t happen again.”

Bradley describes himself as a “positive people person.”

“He’s kind, always happy, doesn’t complain, focuses on his abilities, and makes the most of every day.”

“He enjoys the hard work because he knows that it helps him.”

“He’s doing these other events where he’s got friends and social – it’s just fantastic.”

The McMeeken family lives by this motto, “never give up.”

“We don’t find what’s possible for Bradley, as best as we can we make sure there’s no barrier for him and if he wants to do something, then we won’t be deciding that but rather we’ll create an environment for him to do it,” Mr McMeeken said.

“If he wants to run, swim, get his driver’s licence, whatever, we will support him to do it.”

“We let the outcome define whether he can do something or not.”

Bradley has gone from having nothing to do, to always having something to do.

When he’s not running, swimming, or biking, he spends his time building Legos and playing with his favourite cars, McLaren.

He’s well supported by his kind, supportive parents, school, friends, and his teammates.

“He has fun, he stays in the moment, which is very difficult to shoot for,” Mr McMeeken said.

“We all would like to stay in the moment, but Bradley does.”

“Bradley is the bravest person I know, he never gives up and is an inspiration to all who know him, a natural leader who sets a great example for others.”