WHEN Dean Barton-Smith was a seven year old living in Queensland, he remembers watching the Olympics on TV and asking his mum what it was all about.
‘‘She told me it was where the best athletes in the world went to compete, so I asked her if I could be one and she was very positive and said ‘there’s a first time for everything’. So that became my dream’’ — to be the first deaf Australian Olympian.
In 1992, he did just that in Barcelona when he participated in the decathlon — a two day event comprising a 100 metre sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metre run, 110 metre high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and a 1500m run.
And he’s been honoured for that feat, as well as for service to people who are deaf or hard of hearing through the development of sport and recreation opportunities, with a Member of the Order of Australia- General Division.
Perhaps for him the recognition means more than for most. All his life people had told him there were things he could not do. But he proved them wrong, and this award confirms it.
‘‘It was my life long dream (to be an Olympian) since I was 7 and I had to wait 17 years to achieve it. But more importantly, I had a lot of people doubting me...when you get there it’s worth it.’’
The former Knox Athletics Club member and former president of Bayswater Bullets Little Athleticsdiscovered his passion for sport at school. ‘‘My school experience wasn’t all that great because when the teacher turned her back, I couldn’t hear anything — it’s like putting a mute on the TV— so my escape was always sport. I would look forward to lunchtime, running around...’’
An athletics coach spotted him one day and said he was ‘‘quick on his feet’’. From then, Mr Barton Smith decided to take the sport seriously but there was one issue: the starting gun.
‘‘I wanted to be the next Carl Lewis but I couldn’t quite hear the gun, so I was always missing out on a medal,’’ he said.
Mr Barton-Smith used two strategies to tackle the problem: either feel the vibration of the gun shot or watch the other competitors launch from the corner of his eye.
But it didn’t always work out. ‘‘I could tell you countless stories of false starts and I kept running, like Forrest Gump.’’
Under the guidance of renowned pole vault coach Alan Launder, Mr Barton-Smith smashed many records and won several medals at the Deaflympics in a variety of events.
However a disastrous turn of events at the 1994 Commonwealth Games that pushed him out of medal contention, inspired the 45-year-old to push for better starting cues for deaf people.
He helped lobby for visual cues — lights — and he hopes one day the Olympic swimming and athletic events will use them.
Over his career he has served on the boards of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Deaf Sports Australia and the YMCA. He retired from sport in the late ‘90s — apart from a comeback in the 2005 Deaflympics.
Mr Barton-Smith was emotional when speaking about the Australia Day honour.‘‘It’s very special to be recognised. I hope it inspires other people, especially young deaf people. You get what you put in.’’
‘‘All of my life people said I can’t, it has to be done this way, but sometimes you have to do it differently to get the goal you want.’’
He will celebrate Australia Day with his wife and three children Alexander, Zoe and Michailey.