Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott was already a household name in his native Australia, but he has now done what no other male tennis player has ever achieved: he won the Golden Slam, the four majors and the Olympic gold medal in a calendar year. Those trophies are part of a collection of accolades that have been bestowed upon him, which also include some of Australia’s top honours. He has an Order of Australia Medal, he has been named ‘Australian of the Year 2021 and he was even given a Logie Award for being Favourite New Talent on Australian TV.
The 31-year-old – who has represented Australia in basketball and tennis and was a swimmer – is an inspiration, but a reluctant one. He has overcome much adversity and prejudice to develop into a great athlete and all the while has worked to change perceptions of people with disabilities. But more than that, he is a role model not just for disabled people but also able-bodied people.
The 2022 Australian major is his last event, and it will be emotional for him. He feels the time has come to hang up the racquets and turn his attention to writing the next chapter of his life. We caught up with Dylan for a chat.
What makes Dylan Alcott tick, what motivates you, what generates your enthusiasm?
Dylan Alcott: My motivation, the reason I get out of bed, is to change perceptions so people with disabilities can get out and live the lives they deserve. People think winning gold medals and Grand Slams is my motivator and what gets me going. It’s not. I’m grateful for it because it gives me a platform to do what I am most passionate about, which is living out that purpose. That’s why I get out of bed. The main reason is to be a good person, to be a good bloke and enjoy my life. I love life so much. I have been given a second chance to live.
What do you want people with disabilities to take from you?
I don’t want anybody with a disability to take anything from me, but I do want able bodied people to get something, which is leaving their unconscious bias at the door and seeing what people with a disability can really do when given an opportunity. That’s my main goal but as a by-product of that, if people with a disability change their own perception of themselves, then that’s awesome as well. But my main thing is shattering those glass ceilings that people put up for people with disabilities.
But don’t you also see yourself as an inspiration for people in a similar situation to you?
Not really. I don’t go out there to do that. I’m not going to tell people with a disability how to lead their life. They can live the life they want to live, but the reason they can’t live it is because of a lack of opportunities, discrimination, access or whatever it is, so I try to change that and then I let people with a disability be the people they want to be. It’s not my role to inspire them to be whatever, but I’m sure I do that which is super humbling.
At the US Open, you took out a beer, poured it into the trophy you’d just won, and drank it in one go. Was that a spur-of-the-moment thing?
I had won the Golden Slam and I was asked (by the USTA) if my press conference could be delayed because they wanted to announce me to the crowd during the men’s final. I thought I’m going to scull a beer so I smuggled a beer in and I poured it into the trophy and sculled it because I don’t take myself too seriously. It was very nice – Bradley Cooper was standing in front of me and Brad Pitt, they loved it as well and then it got 10 million views online.
Australian of the Year, what does the nomination mean to you and what would it mean to be named Australian of the Year?
I would be very surprised to be named Australian of the Year. I can’t even believe I have been nominated. To have a person with a disability to be Australian of the Year would be huge for the movement. I stand on the shoulders of giants, so many people with a disability who couldn’t have been Australian of the Year before me. I’d be lost for words; I’d be humbled, and I’d do my best to give that huge honour justice. I’ve had so much help and support and love. I’m the luckiest person in the world and the luckiest person with a disability. I will use that platform to shine a light and show society what a person with a disability can do when given the right opportunities to be themselves.
Logie Award, tennis trophies, other honours – where are they kept, what is more important for you?
I’m not a trophy guy or an award guy. I’m very grateful and humbled to win them but it’s not what motivates me. My mother has some, my father has some, my brother has some, but what do you reckon the No 1 trophy everyone loves, out of gold medals, Wimbledon, Australian Open etc, what do you reckon is the No 1 award people love picking up? The Logie. I have no idea why, but everyone loves the Logie. The Australian Open is my favourite tournament, it’s my home town, it’s special but probably the ones that mean most to me are the gold medals. I sometimes can’t believe I managed to do it and I’m very grateful for it. I don’t have a trophy cabinet, I never will, I’m not that kind of guy.
Where do you see your position in tennis and society generally?
I don’t think about it, I don’t even know. It doesn’t motivate; I just want to make a difference. If I change the life of someone in a very, very small way, then I have done what I was meant to do. But what I will say is that I always wanted a platform to get change. I never thought it would happen, I never thought anyone would know my name, I never thought I would be on Rod Laver Arena, I never thought I would be on TV. I wanted it but never thought it would happen and I just can’t believe it’s happened. It’s sponsors and partners like Babolat, it’s a juggernaut that we all play a role in. I play a very small role in it.
Are you an emotional person and if so, how do those emotions manifest themselves?
Yeah, I’m an emotional guy. When people ask what’s your greatest strength, they think its bravery and resilience but for me it’s being authentic, to be honest. You see me on the court, having a good time, sometimes laughing – I’m just being me, I’m enjoying it. Working my ass off is another one, and the power of being vulnerable. I think being vulnerable is important because if you are vulnerable then you are emotional. It took me a long time to work on that because I used to hate myself, I hated being disabled, I used to be bullied about my disability. I didn’t want to be here anymore in any capacity, let alone being a professional sports person. It took time but I’m proud of where I got to and that’s because of the support I have had over the years.
One more event to go with the Australian Open but what do you want to do now that you have called time on your tennis?
I’m never going to stop what I have been put here to do, which is to keep living out that purpose and change people’s perceptions so people with disabilities can live the lives they want to live. How I’m going to do that I am not sure yet. I’ve got a foundation, I work in TV and radio, I’ve got a podcast, I’ve got a consulting firm called TSA where we educate people about disability. I’ve got a bunch of stuff. I want to do a bit of acting – I want to give it a crack. There are a lot of little ideas I want to do, and I’m excited about that, but I do love tennis and I will be sad that I’m going to be retiring. Tennis has been so good to me. I’m on a high right now and win, lose or draw at the Aussie Open, I’m just going to enjoy it for what it is, a beautiful celebration of tennis.