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Aussie Olympian Barton-Smith receives AM

19 February 2013

For an athlete to reach an Olympic Games it is the culmination of years of sacrifice, hard work and determination. For Australian Dean Barton-Smith it was all of this and so much more.

Barton-Smith had to overcome the significant challenges of competing in elite sport while being deaf  to fulfil his childhood dream of representing Australia at the Olympic Games.

A decathlete at the Barcelona Olympics, Barton-Smith has been honoured for his feats on and off the field of play with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

"When I received the official letter from the Governor General, I had to read it three times to actually believe what I was reading," said Barton-Smith.

"It was totally unexpected. I was quite moved, proud and humbled to read as to why I was considered such an honourable award amongst other distinguished people."

"However I feel the award is not about me, but the award contains the DNA of all those who have helped believed, supported and shaped me to achieve and do the things I long dreamed and love doing." 

Presented with the award on Australia Day, Barton-Smith was recognised not only for reaching the pinnacle of world sport as an athlete but also for his services in helping the deaf community pursue their sporting dreams.

Barton-Smith became Australia’s first deaf Olympian when he competed in the decathlon at the 1992 Games having already competed in the 1985 and 1989 Deaflympics and 1990 Commonwealth Games, winning multiple medals and breaking records along the way. 

"It felt quite surreal (to make the Olympics). I witnessed the Olympics when I was just seven years old and vividly remembered lying on the floor feeling the vibration coming from our old wooden floor - which was the sound of the crowd cheering the athletes as they came into the stadium.

18 years later, after completing the last event of the Decathlon (1500m), I was sitting on the track recovering and immediately sense I felt that same vibration 18 years before. I could never have been a more prouder person, Decathlete, Australian and Olympian that time. That feeling is unique and special."

His storied career in the sport continued as he went on to compete at the 1993 Deaflympics, 1994 Commonwealth Games (4th overall) and went on to make a comeback at the 2005 Melbourne Deaflympics for which he was appointed as the founding chairperson.

Looking back on his career Barton-Smith now realises just how much he had to overcome to achieve success.

"My journey was not easy. It was tough, frustrating and at times unpleasant.

But I’m glad I continued to persevere. Hence having the privilege to become an Olympian, I hope I now have left a trail for others – whether they are an athlete or not - to realise their dreams whatever they may be."

After hanging up his spikes he recognised the significant challenges that were faced by the hearing impaired and looked to turn his attention to inspiring fellow deaf athletes to achieve their dreams on the sporting field.

"When I speak to any young athletes I can sense what going through their mind by just looking in their eyes. I know they possess hope, desire (and some sense of fear) wanting to be the best or to be like their own role model. But I know they have doubts. I get a real buzz inside myself from not only hearing what their dreams are but enlightening them further how very realistic such dream can be when they learn how to tackle challenges differently and realising that we may all be different but it is what’s in between the ears that matters."

Barton-Smith was instrumental in bringing the Deaflympics to Australia for the first time in 2005, helping to raise over $8 million as Melbourne put on one of the best Games in the event’s 80 plus years of history.

"I knew how important it was to ensure young Deaf and hard of hearing people (and more so - so many young deaf children) to have a taste of this event, be inspired and hopefully plant a seed in their mind to excel in whatever they wish to achieve."

Whilst I felt finding sufficient funding was a real test for me – which did require to utilise my Olympic experience many times – I am quite proud that it happened and it made a positive impact to many globally."

Passionate about instilling confidence in young athletes with disabilities, Barton-Smith continues to regularly visit schools around the country to share his Olympic journey and offer pathways for them to participate in sport and recreational activities.

Matthew Bartolo

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