Aaron Chatman is an Australian Athletics legend, winning multiple medals at the Paralympic Games in his prime event of High Jump. Aaron is a local of Innisfail, North Queensland.
Whilst the Paralympics Games are on it’s a perfect time share Aarons athletics career, the highs and lows, and advice to athletes both present and future.
How did you get into athletics and who was your greatest influence when you started?
I competed at athletics through primary school and high school, along with other typical sports in North Qld – rugby league, touch football, soccer and indoor soccer. My greatest influence was my Dad, he didn’t know much about athletics, but he was driving me wherever I needed to go and always super supportive of anything I wanted to do.
What is your most memorable performance?
My most memorable performance was definitely competing at Beijing Paralympics in 2008, we had a full stadium of 80,000 people for the night session and the final stages of the high jump ended up being the last event of the night, so we had all eyes on us. To come away with a silver medal in this and being my first Paralympics was absolutely unforgettable.
What is your Personal Best? And can you give the story of the day you did this performance (Do you have a video of this performance that we can share?)
My personal best is 2.05m – unfortunately I do not have video of this as it was just at a local interclub meet in Canberra in the lead up to Nationals in 2007. It was a small meet with a few other athletes jumping and I ended up being the only one left in the comp jumping against myself. Along with my coach, we actually opted to stop jumping rather than continue on to the next height in the hopes of doing better the following week at Nationals but it did not pan out that way.
Did you do athletics as a Junior and if so, what was your progression from Juniors to Seniors?
We didn’t really have a junior program and I didn’t compete in Little athletics due to distance away from the nearest club when I was a kid. My athletics experience as a junior was purely through school. I jumped at district level in primary school and state level in grade 12. From memory my PB as a 16 year old was 1.72m (doing scissor jump) at 17 I went to state champs and changed to Fosbury flop and cleared 1.89m to get equal 4th at state champs. As an 18 year old I jumped 1.90m and then at 19 I jumped at IPC World Champs in Netherlands and improved my PB to 2.01m – breaking the world record for my class at the time (1.98m). In March 2007 about 6 weeks before my 20th birthday, I jumped my PB – 2.05m.
Where you based in North Queensland for much of your Career, or did you move elsewhere to train?
I moved to Townsville from my home town of Innisfail in 2005 after I finished high school and continued jumping at interclub meets through the year, I ended up meeting the Para-athletics high performance manager in Townsville and he lined up a week long trial at the AIS in Canberra. I went down for the trial and was invited to stay and offered a full time scholarship. I stayed in Canberra as a scholarship holder for 3 years, during this time is when my jumping progressed quickly. I ‘retired’ in the beginning of 2009 to move back home and didn’t jump again until 2015. In 2015 I started a few coaching sessions with school kids and found the spark reignited and started training again – this time based in Innisfail and driving an hour to the track in Cairns for jumps sessions.
If you were based in North Queensland, how did you manage high performance training?
It was difficult to train in my home town due to lack of access to proper facilities and trying to fit in around full time work. The track was approx 90km away in Cairns, so I was travelling once a week for my jumps sessions. The rest of my training was gym/weights at home and plyometrics sessions on grass oval close to my house, all of this was without a coach overseeing sessions in person, which really was not ideal.
What is your favourite part about the athletics in North Queensland in particular?
My favourite part about athletics in North Qld has to be the ability to train in warm weather year round. You never need too many layers in our heat/humidity.
How did you balance ambitions on the track and outside of athletics? And what advice do you have for developing athletes for life outside of athletics?
It can be a difficult balancing act. In my time away from athletics I was working full time, so when I came back to the sport, I was fitting athletics in around work rather than the other way around.
My advice would be to acknowledge that even if athletics/competing is your passion, you need to consider what you will do when you are no longer able to compete. Speak to people who have been there before and try to have a path in mind that you can work towards and set yourself up for, or work on this before the time comes when you actually need it. Develop an identity for yourself outside of sport so that when the time comes to hang up the spikes, you are prepared and are not left with a hole in your life where athletics once was. If you want to continue a career in athletics as a coach or in development, try to get the ball rolling on this while you are still involved as you are surrounded by the right people already to get you there.
What was your favourite track to compete at?
My favourite track is definitely Townsville. The weather was usually warm and dry and ideal for jumping and there is the something a bit special about castle hill rising above the track. It does set an impressive back drop
Did you have any rivals?
I didn’t have anyone I would consider a rival specifically. I have always felt that high jump is more about beating the bar and working/improving my own performance. For me personally, I feel that if I set out thinking that I needed to beat an individual, it would distract me from my own process and hinder my performance as a result.
What was the classification process like for you and what advice do you have for multi class athletes considering giving athletics a go?
The classification process for me was very straight forward, my congenital amputation is very easy for classifiers to view and class me accordingly. My advice for those looking to give athletics a go would be to reach out to other athletes/coaches and officials. I always found everyone more than willing to help and share their knowledge/experience with newcomers.
What event are you most looking forward to watching at this Olympics?
Olympics and Paralympics – high jump! It was amazing watching womens and mens high jump from the Olympics. To see an Australian woman (Nicola McDermott) jump an Australian/Oceania record and come away with a silver medal was incredible.
The mens high jump competition had me on the edge of my seat and gave me goosebumps to see the camaraderie between Barshim and Tamberi to eventually share the gold medal after impeccable jumping from both men.
Im eagerly anticipating the results from my event (T47 high jump on Sunday 29 August) at Tokyo Paralympics to see how the guys jump.
What was your Paralympic experience like?
It differed greatly from 2008 to 2016, but both were amazing experiences in their own ways. Overall it was just an incredible/life changing experience to be surrounded by so many like-minded individuals in such a unique way. As long as I live it will remain etched in my mind, jumping in front of a stadium full of 80,000 people in Beijing in 2008
What did it mean to you personally representing your Country?
It gave me a sense of pride and duty to wear the green and gold for Australia. I think at the time it takes a while for the feeling to really sink in, but it is something that can never be taken from you.
What is the best advice you have for any athlete who has goals to compete at the Pinnacle (Olympics or Paralympics)?
Surround yourself with like-minded, positive people who want to see you succeed. Speak to more experienced/successful athletes and look at their mindset. Don’t doubt yourself or your ability to succeed.
You just recently retired, how was this process and what do you do now?
My retirement was not a quick decision. I had an ongoing ankle injury that really never properly recovered even after surgery. Jumping became painful every time and I felt that after competing at 2 Paralympics, and 3 world championships that I had accomplished all I was able to and decided to step away from the sport.
I am working full time as a property manager and have done so for the last 7 years. Outside of work, I go fishing, boating, hiking and generally enjoy the outdoors back in my home town – Innisfail in North Qld.
If you are a Multi Class Athlete, we are seeking EOIs for Classification held in Townsville on the 23rd or 24th September.