On The Record
National athletics record holder Una Kinajil-Reding (they/them) hopes to not only compete at the Paralympics one day—but also help open up conversations around disability and inclusion.
Dozens of medals hang on the wall of Una’s bedroom. At just 15, the Year 11 student holds multiple national secondary school championship records for shotput, discus and javelin in the F46 classification. They have been competing in athletics since they started primary school: in the para classifications since they were 10 and for regional organisation Parafed Canterbury since they were 12.
“When I was in primary school and competing at the Canterbury competition, my sports director asked me if I wanted to compete in the para categories, so I did and two years later Parafed Canterbury picked me up and I started properly competing from then.”
While Una was selected and started competing in para athletics young, they believe one of the biggest misconceptions is that it is easier than non-disability sports. “A lot of people think it is really easy to get into para sports but for a lot of people it really isn’t,” they say. “Because of all the classifications, it can be very difficult to qualify. For example, I am not allowed to compete in swimming because my disability doesn’t meet the classification system for that.”
Una’s classification is based on their limited range of motion in their right shoulder.
“I have Erb’s palsy, which is a birthing injury. It affects my right shoulder. Basically, when I was born the nerves and tendons in my right shoulder ripped and tore, which is why I can’t move my arm properly.” Una considers winning their shotput category at the 2019 Canterbury Secondary School Athletics Champs by 0.01% one of their proudest achievements, and hopes to one day compete at the all ages Australia Track and Field Championships—and, of course, the Paralympics.
Such events, Una says, are a great way to open up conversations about disability; a topic they think needs to be discussed much more. “In general with disability it’s not talked about much. You don’t really hear about people with disability in the media, well you do with the Paralympics, but in general you don’t. “I want to see parasport being talked more about because it opens up more conversations about disabilities and the amazing things people can do that are not just physical.”
In fact, it wasn’t until they started competing in their sports that Una had the right words to describe why their arm worked differently from other people’s. “The main mental challenge I went through is when I first started out competing, I didn’t realise I had a disability because no one ever told me explicitly for my first 12 years of life. “I just thought I was weird or different, because I was around my class and friends and none of them had a disability. Then once I did realise, I actually felt less stigmatised because at that point my experience with people with disabilities was through sport and seeing their potential.”
Meeting fellow para athletes has not only exposed Una to inspiring role models, like New Zealand javelin thrower Holly Robinson, but has introduced them to many new friends and shown them they can overcome challenges, both mental and physical.
“For me, being my best is pushing myself to always do better and not giving up when I don’t do as well as I would hope. And learning from that and keeping going.”
To keep on top of their game, Una has two athletics trainings each week, as well as doing their own fitness workouts and shoulder stretches, playing netball in winter and running in summer. “Being at Rangi has really created a support system around me to help push me. I have some amazing teachers who have helped me in general aspects and in my sport. My parents are also very encouraging; they are always trying to help me push to the next level and so are all the friends I have made through parasports competitions. We are always encouraging each other to be better.”
When Una is not training, they also have an active interest in music and hope to follow an engineering pathway after high school.
“I am in Resolutions as well as another out-of-school choir, and I have an interest in science, so I’m thinking of pursuing engineering, as well as keeping up with my sports.”
Oh, and Una is also currently teaching themself to skateboard.