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3 November 2021

The real seat of learning

While many athletes would delight in making just one state team, Michael Neroni has…

While many athletes would delight in making just one state team, Michael Neroni has represented South Australia in five separate sports.

Mr Neroni, who was born with spina bifida and largely relies on a wheelchair to get around, has competed at a national level in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, javelin, shot put and discus.

“So, I’ve had some really cool experiences in sport, even though I have a disability,” Mr Neroni said.

“And that is an opportunity available to anyone with a disability, in a wide range of sports.”

Michael Neroni addresses the students as part of the Wheelienet program.

Mr Neroni this week visited Blackfriars as part of disability service organisation Novita’s Wheelienet program.

The program is designed to raise awareness of the issues and challenges facing people living with disability.

Mr Neroni said the perception of athletes with a disability had change over recent years.

“I think these days more people are realising that people with disabilities are able to be elite athletes, just like anyone else, and there is certainly a lot more respect for what they do,” he said.

“An elite athlete that has a disability still trains every day of the week, usually multiple times a day, just like any other professional athlete, so there’s no difference in their fitness or commitment.”

He told the Year 9 boys that he was not limited by his disability.

“One of the major things for me is that I can only walk a very short distance at a time … about 50m or so is as far as I can manage. (But) I can get out and do most of the things that anyone else can,” said Mr Neroni, who could not only drive a car, but had learnt to fly a plane with hand controls.

During the Wheelienet session, the students learnt how to control a wheelchair, before taking to the court for a game of wheelchair basketball.


Blackfriars teacher Carl Todman said the Wheelienet program challenged the boys to step outside their comfort zone.

“The Wheelienet sessions are designed to provide students with a hands-on experience of what it means to live with a disability,” Mr Todman said.

“This is part of a unit of work in PE which focuses on Diversity in Sport, which includes learning about discrimination.

“The goal is to develop understanding and empathy in our boys, as well as a sense of gratitude for their own good health.”