Pictured: Australian Para-badminton competitor Duke Trench-Thiedeman (right), with YMCA staff member Luke De Vincentis, at the YMCA-managed Darebin Community Sports Stadium.
Hard work and belief can take you from playing sports at your local Y, all the way around the world to compete in the green and gold.
With just two years training, Duke Trench-Thiedeman has become one of Australia’s top Para-badminton competitors, recently returning from the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Para-Badminton World Championships held in Ulsan, South Korea.
Duke trains regularly at the YMCA-managed Darebin Community Sports Stadium (DCSS), which has invested heavily in providing wheelchair athletes an inclusive environment to get active.
“I actually came to DCSS in 2016 to try out wheelchair handball on a free demo day,” says Duke.
“There was also an opportunity to play badminton and I found it put less stress on my back than other sports so I took it up. It took a lot of practice, but I was determined to make the Australian team once I set myself the challenge.”
Being physically active has always been important to Duke, playing squash, tennis, and even sailing. But after a horrific motorbike accident in 2009, he suffered a spinal cord injury to his thoracic which left him needing a wheelchair.
Committed to start playing sport again, Duke set out to rehab his injury and after two years was looking for opportunities to get active.
“I played wheelchair tennis at Albert Park for a few years before I had another setback. The facilities there didn’t make it easy for me to participate, so once I recovered I found DCSS and haven’t looked back.”
Fast forward to 2017, Duke qualified for the Australian para-badminton team – becoming the oldest competitor not just in Australia, but also the world at 65 years young.
“It’s such a huge honour to represent your country,” he said.
“After the accident I thought my life and activities would be very limited, but through hard work I achieved a dream of mine. I’ve learnt so much from the experience, and my mission is now to enrol young people to participate in the sport and qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic team.”
Luke De Vincentis, Programs Coordinator at DCSS, has worked closely with Duke and other wheelchair participants to provide the most inclusive and friendly environment for all.
“Duke attends every Monday and Wednesday, and everyone at the centre is very proud of what he’s been able to achieve,” said Luke.
“They don’t call him ‘The Duke’ for nothing!”
A father and grandfather, Duke hopes that his journey can show more wheelchair athletes, and people with disability, that you can still reach your goals even when things get tough.
“Don’t worry about what others think, just believe in yourself - that’s all you need,” he says.
“Luke likes to say ‘where there’s a wheel there’s a way’, which resonates with me through and through. It’s not a life sentence but an opportunity to discover yourself.”
The Darebin Community Sports Stadium host a variety of wheelchair sports every week, open to everyone to participate. You can find out more by calling the centre on (03) 9471 4935.