LOOK closely amid Australia's largest-ever contingent of Paralympians, and you'll see two northern beaches athletes who are keen to prove themselves on the international stage.
Debut Paralympians Spencer Cotie from Forestville and Peter Marchant, who was born in Manly and lived much of his life around Narrabeen, are just days out from their first competition.
Three northern beaches coaches are also in Tokyo, Freshwater's Jon Bell (swimming), Newport's Ken Halliday (boccia) and Curl Curl's Jason Baker (rowing).
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Games runs from August 24 to September 5 and Australia has sent 179 athletes to compete in 18 of the 22 sports on offer.
Eyes on the ball
FORESTVILLE'S Spencer Cotie, 22, is a hot medal chance in Tokyo, and goes into the Games ranked third in the world in boccia Pairs BC3.
The 22-year-old has been competing in the sport since he was in primary school, and just two years ago scored a silver at the World Championships in Pairs BC3 with his teammate Dan Michael.
Cotie's also competing in Individual BC3 and is currently ranked 20th in the world. His first game will be in Individuals on August 28.
Boccia is similar to lawn bows, but it's played indoors, and the aim is to get your balls closest to the jack (see full explanation in box).
There's four categories of boccia, and which one athletes compete in depends on their abilities. Cotie has cerebral palsy and plays in BC3, which allows him to use a ramp assistant during competition, and he said his assistant Zoe Dix is integral to his success.
During competition, Dix sits in front of Cotie with her back to the play, and positions the ramp and balls according to the players' instructions.
"She helps me on court by positioning the ramp to meet my specifications and places the balls on the ramp for me to release," he said. "Without her I could not be the player I am. We work as a team and both people need to excel to win."
What's his goal in Tokyo? "Two gold medals of course, but realistically I want to outperform my ranking of 20," he said. "I think we have a real chance for a gold medal in Pairs."
Dreams can come true
Sports-mad Cotie grew up thinking he'd never be able to play sport competitively, and admits competing for Australia in his first Paralympics is a dream come true.
"Boccia has given me the opportunity to compete for my country," he said. "I get to compete and challenge myself against the best players in my sport."
Spencer's tactic before competing is to clear his head, relax and go in with confidence.
"I get nervous before all games," he said. "I try to take the nerves and channel it into focus and motivation. I try to be in the moment/shot and not think about other things."
Well worth the effort
Gold at Tokyo might be the immediate goal for Cotie, but long term he's got his sights set on the Australian Federal Police.
He is midway through a Law and Criminology degree at Macquarie University, and once he graduates would like a role with the AFP. "I enjoy understanding why people commit crimes and looking at preventative measures," he said.
Cotie's lived in the northern beaches most of his life and said there's a lot to love about it, and he's keen to do his community proud at the Tokyo Games.
"I love the northern beaches because I can get around everywhere in my wheelchair," he said. "There are lots of fantastic beaches and friendly and supportive people.
"I look forward to representing the northern beaches and I hope to make you all proud in Tokyo."
When he's not studying law, Cotie said he's just like any other 22-year-old, he's got a sense of humour, loves to laugh, listen to music and play and watch sport.
"People with CP are people just like everyone else," he said. "We are smart, driven and have the same dreams and goals as anyone else. We may take a little time to get our message across, but if people take the time, it is worth the effort."
What is boccia?
Boccia has been a Paralympic sport since the 1984 and is played by athletes with a significant physical impairment affecting all four limbs.
Athletes compete in singles, pairs and teams events.
It's played indoors and tests competitors' degree of muscle control and accuracy. Competing in wheelchairs, athletes throw, kick or use a ramp device to propel leather balls as close as possible to a white ball called the 'jack'. There are six red and six blue balls to indicate which team is playing.
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