‘I am so lucky’: five things to know about 2022 Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott

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<span>Photograph: Ella Ling/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Ella Ling/Rex/Shutterstock

There seems to be no end to Dylan Alcott’s achievements. A multi-talented athlete, disability advocate, storyteller and media personality, he’s got 29 grand slam titles under his belt (and is taking a shot at a 30th this week).

Alongside Paralympic gold and silver medals in tennis and basketball, he was awarded a medal of the Order of Australia in 2009 when he was just 18. And on Tuesday he was awarded the title of Australian of the Year – yet another huge accolade for the now 31-year-old.

Related: Tennis star and Paralympian Dylan Alcott named Australian of the Year for 2022

Alcott has made headlines for all kinds of reasons throughout his career – here’s a quick primer on some highlights.

1. He drank a tinnie from his Golden Slam trophy

Don’t let the beer Alcott downed from his champion’s trophy at the US Open last year distract you from the achievement it was celebrating: Alcott had just won a Golden Slam – that is, he won four grand slam tennis titles plus a gold medal in the same calendar year. He’s the first male player to have achieved this, in any form of tennis – prior to 2021, only Steffi Graf had done it.

“Thanks for making the dreams of a young fat disabled kid with a really bad haircut come true because I can’t believe I just did it!” he told the crowd after his win. “I just can’t believe I just won the golden slam!”

Later, he said: “There was no chance I wasn’t going to scull that beer.”

2. He started Australia’s only fully accessible music festival

Alongside his sporting career, Alcott is an avid music fan – Triple J listeners may know him as a presenter on Weekend Arvos, and a regular guest on Triple J breakfast. Alcott is a wheelchair user, after an operation to remove a tumour on his spine when he was three weeks old left him a paraplegic. His love of music and passionate advocacy for disability led to the creation in 2018 of AbilityFest, which aims to “use music as an inclusive platform to normalise disability”.

AbilityFest is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Part of what the festival does is raise money for Alcott’s foundation, which uses the funds to help young Australians with disabilities fulfil their potential – whether that’s in sport, music, business or anything else they show aptitude for. Supporting young disabled people to get where they want to go is Alcott’s bag. He’s also the founder of Get Skilled Access, an organisation which states its purpose is to “create a new generation of disability inclusion that is equitable for all.”

Alcott has apparently also crowdsurfed in his wheelchair – and says he’s only fallen out once.

3. He’s not afraid to call out discrimination

As Emma Kemp wrote in Guardian Australia today: “If he has to protest, he will. In 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic he accused the US Open of ‘disgusting discrimination’ over its decision to drop the wheelchair event. When the tournament backflipped and had it reinstated, he praised them wholeheartedly.”

Alcott has been open throughout his career about how his disability – and sport – has affected his life and his mental health, not least in his autobiography, Able.

“I hated my disability, I didn’t even want to be here any more and then I found tennis and it changed and saved my life,” he said in New York last year.

“The reason I get out of bed every day is to change perceptions,” he once told former ABC News Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly. “People [with disability] can live normal lives. They deserve opportunities in education, employment, in their personal lives, in eating, travelling, dating.”

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4. He recently announced his retirement from tennis

“The time has come, I feel redundant, I feel old, washed up,” he said in November.

In a moving speech – after which he popped a bottle of champagne and, of course, necked it – he explained how proud he was of the work he’d done on the court, and what he hoped to do off it.

“Being a good tennis player is not the priority of my life. Being a good person is. Being a good advocate and changing perceptions for people like me so they can live lives they deserve to live and get the opportunities I have had. I am so lucky,” he said.

“It’s the next generation’s turn to dominate and get the recognition they deserve,” he said. “I’ve known this day was coming for a while. It’s been an incredible ride and I think the time has come to move onto other things that I do. In saying that, I’m going to train my arse off for the next two months and try and go out on a high.”

5. He may be about to win his eighth Australian Open championship – in his last ever pro tennis match

“There’s no way I could finish my career a few weeks ago because the US Open was not my home,” Alcott said in November. “This is my home and the Australian Open changed my life. What better way to finish than in my home in front of crowds?”

Perhaps with an eighth title win? Stay tuned.

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