Sunshine Foundation

A Paralympic Dream

Friday, September 9, 2016

In 2014, Sunshine shared the story of Austin Smeenk, a Sunshine Dreamer whose dream was to have his own customized racing chair. At sixteen, Austin shared that his biggest dream was to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games.  Two years later, we find ourselves beaming with Sunshine pride as Austin competes to capture the gold in the Rio! Congratulations Austin. We’re so happy your dream came true. Go Austin Go!  

Austin's Dream Story September 2014: 

Austin Racing Wheelchair “I like going fast.” Sixteen-year-old Austin, who lives with paraplegia, was never the kid sitting in front of the television after school. He was always racing around, being active.

“On the ski hill, his dad would put him between his legs and go down the hill,” said Sandy, Austin’s mother. “Austin always wanted to go fast.”

Austin was six when he started playing sledge hockey and started racing when he was seven. “It’s an adrenaline rush. I like coming in first.” He loved racing, but he found that he was always borrowing chairs — chairs that people had used and usually outgrown. Chairs that didn’t fit Austin quite right. “I was settling for the equipment I was using. Definitely, I was not operating on a full deck.”

Austin’s mother suggested applying to Sunshine to fulfill his dream of having his own customized racing chair. His coach measured him and Sunshine arranged to have a chair made that would fit Austin perfectly. When his racing chair was ready, the family drove down to Florida to attend a high-performance training camp and to pick up the chair. With his new racing chair, he achieved his personal best on the first, second and third races of the season. “There was a clear leap in performance and that was due to the technology of the chair,” said Austin.

Austin is a member of Athletics Canada and with his custom chair he holds the Canadian record in 100, 200, 400 and 800 meter races; and 100, 200, and 400 meter races in the Americas, ranking 4th in the world! 

He has competed in the Swiss Series races, Desert Challenge in Arizona, the Canada Games in Sherbrook, Quebec and the World Championships in Lyon, France with his biggest dream to compete in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

“It’s so hard to express the kind of nervous energy that takes over when thousands of people are screaming in the stands with the camera crew in your face at the starting line announcing your name and your country,” said Austin. “[Being] ready in my custom chair gave me and my parents and all our friends and family such a great sense of pride."

“Sunshine has had a really awesome impact. It’s helped me reach my goals. Sunshine helps kids reach their dreams and do exactly what they want to do.”

See Austin’s Athlete Profile:

More stories about Austin at Rio: