25 September 2023

Medals are nice, but champion young athlete Xavier Wilson just loves to run for fun

| Jen White
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Xavier wearing and holding medals from various events

Shell Cove Public School student Xavier Wilson with just some of his recent medals. He wears sunglasses due to his visual impairment. Photo: Jen White.

Remember this name when the 2032 Brisbane Paralympics rolls around – Xavier Wilson.

He’s only just turned 11, but if his achievements to date are any indication, Xavier will achieve his ambition to be on the starting line – and podium – at the Brisbane Games.

He hasn’t decided exactly which event he will compete in, maybe the 1500 m, or 5 km or even 10 km, but he’s confident he’ll be there.

The Shell Cove Public School Year 5 student is the National Cross Country Champion for his age – two years in a row.

Cross country and athletics are his passion, but Xavier is equally at home swimming, playing soccer, or lapping his dad Isaac on a bike ride around Lake Illawarra. And he’s about to start Oztag.

What makes his feats all the more incredible is that Xavier is legally blind. He’s also pretty unassuming about his abilities and a little bit shy, but his passion shines through.

Born with aniridia (absence of the iris), Xavier can see a short distance ahead and can vaguely make out the lines indicating lanes on an athletics track. However, he requires a guide in cross country competition.

Xavier joined Albion Park Little Athletics in under sevens just because he “really loved running”, mum Brigitte says.

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“When he progresses through to each level, he’s not worried about the medals, or what title that is. He just knows he gets to do it again. And he does love to compete and represent – that’s his main thing, he’s so proud to represent the school and his region and state,” she says.

Ask Xavier what he loves about running and his answer is simple – it’s fun, and he’s with his mates.

“It’s my happy place,” he says.

Last year, in his first year of school sport, he received multiple awards at the South Coast School Sports Association’s Annual Sporting Awards, after representing his school at various national events.

He received the NSW Sporting Blues Award, Multiclass Athlete of the Year (Primary School), John MacIntosh Most Notable Achievement in an Individual Sport and one of four NSW Sport Scholarship Awards.

He came away from last year’s NSW Primary Athletics Championship with a personal best time in the 10 years’ 1500 m racing against able-bodied peers. In the 10 years’ multiclass field, he won three gold (200 m, discus and long jump), two silver (100 m and another PB, shot put) and a bronze medal in the 800 m.

Within the space of a week last year, Xavier competed in the Nationals swimming event in Brisbane (first ever national medal, competing in the 10-12 years’ boys handicap medley relay) then headed to the National Cross Country in Adelaide (winning gold in the 10 years’ boys para 2 km, para team event and silver in the 10-12 years’ boys para 4 x 1 km relay).

Not long after, he was back in Brisbane for national athletics where he competed in the 10 years’ multiclass events and won gold in the 100 m, 200 m, long jump and discus, silver in the shot put and bronze in the 800 m. He also won silver in the 10-12 years’ para medley relay.

Xavier’s idol is Australian Paralympian Jaryd Clifford, who is also visually impaired. Jaryd debuted at the Rio 2016 Paralympics at just 17. At Tokyo 2020, Jaryd won a medal in each of his three events – the marathon T12 (silver), 5000 m (silver) and 1500 m (bronze).

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Last year at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Jaryd invited Xavier to run alongside him.

“I was the youngest there – and I didn’t come last,” Xavier says proudly.

He shrugs his shoulders when asked for the secret to his success. Apart from a big plate of mum’s spaghetti the night before a race and a bowl of oats for breakfast, running is simply fun.

Isaac said Xavier’s coach, Pete Murphy, believes he is one of those lucky athletes who has both the passion and ability to succeed.

“He said it’s unusual to find an athlete that has both,” Isaac said.

“You either find kids that have ability and they don’t have the drive or the passion, then you have the kids with the passion but they don’t have the ability. Luckily for Xavi, he has both.”

Xavier’s next competition will be the NSW Primary Athletics Championships in October, where he’ll compete in the 1500 m, 800 m, 200 m, 100 m, discus, shot put and long jump. From there it will be onto the Nationals in November.

School sport ends then, but don’t expect this kid to slow down – he’ll still be competing in Little As, and playing any other sport he can.

In fact, he has one suggestion for Shell Cove Public School Principal Simon Webb on how the school can be improved.

“More sport – sport, sport, sport, sport. I would just do sport all day, every day, whenever I’m awake.”

And he has wise words of advice for other kids who might be thinking about taking up running or athletics: “Do what you love to do. Give it a go and just go and do what you love to do.”

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