MERCURY SERIES - Making A Difference
Brenton Ashford-Potter refuses to allow a speech disorder and Down syndrome to get in the way of his message that people with a disability are much more than their disability.
Although he communicates with the aid of his smartphone and sign language, his message is being heard across Australia since he became an ambassador of the Don't DIS my ABILITY campaign.
Brenton has Down syndrome and severe dyspraxia, but he volunteers at sporting clubs and mentors children with disabilities through the Disability Trust's "sports ready" program.
A self-confessed AFL and ARL footy fanatic, the 22-year-old from Woonona helps coach Woonona-Bulli's under 13s Bushrangers, regularly surfs and has been supporting the Northern Districts Tigers AFL club since he was six months old.
At the South Coast AFL presentation night recently he won a major supporters award for helping his club and he was also nominated for the 2012 NRMA Helping People Award.
Brenton also helps a sport service run by the Disability Trust.
"I've been volunteering with them for four years," he said. "I do it to give young people with disabilities someone to look up to and because I love sport."
Brenton went to Corrimal High School and was involved in a support unit that integrated him into mainstream classes.
At high school he loved taking part in sport-related subjects with other students and completing his HSC.
Brenton also plays basketball and has attended Wollongong Hawks games since he was five.
Brenton's greatest fan is his mum, Lisa Ashford-Potter, who first witnessed his hand-eye co-ordination when he was 18 months old and threw a basketball across a room and it landed in a bin.
That was just a year after he had open-heart surgery and nearly died after his lung collapsed.
Another great passion is snowboarding and he has an orange belt in judo.
He is also involved with disabled surfers and recently received a longboard from a friend.
His next goal is to join the local Surfboard Riders Association.
Brenton is involved in many fund-raising activities such as annual race days at Kembla Grange and golf days at The Links Shellharbour for the Disability Trust.
He also recently participated in Buddy Walk Illawarra, to promote community acceptance of people with Down syndrome.
He loves being a Don't DIS my ABILITY ambassador and a role model.
"I like to help people, have fun and be a part of my community," he said. "I have got something to give."
Ms Ashford-Potter recalled one mother who saw Brenton coaching 13-year-old boys and told her what an inspiration he was.
Brenton wants to encourage children to become involved in sport, and hopes one day to turn his sport passion into a job.
"I want to get a paid job in sport ... as a footy coach in rugby league or AFL."
A step towards that goal was completing a coaching principles course.
He plans more study but in the next 12 months will attend functions around Australia as a Don't DIS my ABILITY ambassador.
And his message is clear.
"Don't DIS my ABILITY because I am not just someone with a disability ... I am just like you," he said.
A video of him coaching has been filmed for the dontdismyability.com.au.
"It is of him coaching his 13-year-old boys and they spoke to two of them about what it meant to have Brenton as a coach," Ms Ashford-Potter said. "They just love him."
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