Cutting-edge innovation in Paralympic sport performance will enter a new era after an agreement was signed between Paralympics Australia and key Queensland-based sporting and research bodies including The University of Queensland.
The Queensland Network for Paralympic Performance Enhancement and Applied Sports Research signals the next generation of collaboration between Paralympics Australia (PA), the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) and teams from The University of Queensland, University of Sunshine Coast, Queensland University of Technology as well as the state’s peak Para-sports organisation the Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association.
Representing Paralympics Australia at the announcement was Chief Executive Lynne Anderson and Paralympic Innovation Lead Dr Ross Pinder.
"There have been multiple collaborations in place for some time between the different organisations but this agreement brings those links together and takes advantage of the expertise available to form a world-leading Para-sport research network," Dr Pinder said.
"The Network will allow us to continue to evolve how we work with sports, how we collaborate with coaches and athletes and how we seek out the best researchers and practitioners in the world.
"Three of the best universities to work with in Para-sport are in South-East Queensland.
"The agreement will allow us to access more expertise, embed more students in our sports and better answer the questions that our athletes and coaches want to ask.
"More broadly, the focus on athletes with a disability - including people with a physical, intellectual or vision impairment - can have wider societal impacts.
"Considering the role of universal design in research can solve problems that may not only improve the performances of our athletes, but spark impacts beyond Para-sport, for instance, improving accessibility to public transport. Everyone’s going to benefit from that."
The parties signed a letter of intent on Friday 28 May in a major step forward to establishing a formal agreement to be ratified in due course.
"The work performed by Ross and his team has established Paralympics Australia as a global pacesetter in Para-sport innovation and, considering the outstanding related research being undertaken at UQ, USC and QUT, it’s clearly a natural fit for us to unite and make even better use of our resources," Ms Anderson said.
"Innovation is a fiercely contested and crucial aspect of Para-sport and I share Ross’s excitement at the possibilities this collaboration provides in taking Australian Para-athletes to new levels of performance.
"I’m also eager to see how research conducted by the Network will be applied more widely, providing better everyday outcomes for the 20 percent of Australians who live with a disability."
UQ’s Associate Professor Sean Tweedy said the ParaSTART program had been running for four years and focused on performance enhancement in athletes with severe disabilities.
"Among all the aspiring Paralympians in Australia, those with severe disabilities face the greatest physical, medical, attitudinal and financial barriers to safe sports entry," Dr Tweedy said.
"Consequently numbers are extremely low - less than 1.5 percent of classified Para-swimmers have high support needs and 0.5 percent of classified Para-athletes.
"For those who overcome those barriers, performance enhancement is complex - little is known about how best to optimise the physiological, biomechanical and motor control elements of performance."