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Steffan bowls over obstacles

in Latest News, Stories of Independence

Welcome to our new collection of Stories of Independence; written about you, by you.  Guest writers are invited to share their own personal experiences, or express their views on the world around them. Below, Steffan Nero recounts some of the milestones in his remarkable sporting career. At only 17, Steffan has a passion for both Blind Cricket and Goalball. Through sharing his story, we can begin to understand the major role that sport has taken in Steffan’s life and the incredible goals he has achieved in his vision for independence. This is Steffan’s story.

Steffan Nero being presented with Junior Sports star award
Steffan Nero being presented with Junior Sports Star award

Hello, my name is Steffan Nero and I’m 17 years old. Sport has always been a major part of my life, ever since I was young. I used to play cricket (or attempt to) with my dad in the backyard, or kick a soccer ball around the park. I was born with Congenital Nystagmus. It was an extremely challenging thing to live with for the early part of my life. I had trouble making friends at school, playing sport or even crossing a road. I could never interact with other kids my age, as I could never see who they were. This meant I was often alone at school.

Seeking a respite, I started taking karate lessons twice a week. It was invigorating. I was learning to defend myself and I enjoyed the challenge. However, I found I was never on the same level as the other individuals in my club. Often those I was sparring against would unknowingly use my poor vision against me. Most people didn’t know or fully understand the extent of my reduced vision. While this obstacle was in my way, it didn’t stop me from progressing through the levels in the club and winning numerous awards.

I’ve learnt that with most things, be it music or academia-related, trying your best is all that anyone can ask of you. You should always strive to do your best!

I began playing Goalball when I was 11-years-old in 2010. Initially, I thought it would be a sport that I would quickly grow tired of. However, after only a few short weeks, I realised that this was the sport for me! Goalball is a sport specifically designed for vision impaired and blind individuals. Consequently, it puts everyone on an even playing field, unlike many other sports I’ve tried.

I went to my first Australian Goalball Nationals held in Sydney, in 2011. It was fantastic. The benefit of attending a sporting competition like this was that I met other blind and vision impaired people just like me. They were either going or had gone through the same experience as myself. I played in the Juniors division and we came 2nd. I received Most Valuable Player and the Highest Goal Scorer, which was pretty exciting for me considering that it was my first ever National competition in Goalball. I did find however, that my win resulted in certain drawbacks. I was regarded with suspicion by certain individuals that had voiced concerns over me cheating. This had a profound effect on me, but I never let it get to me. I had to keep trying to improve my skills.

After coming 1st in multiple State level competitions in WA, and training three times a week, I went into the 2012 Australian Goalball Nationals with a degree of confidence. However, this competition presented me with one of the biggest wake up calls in my sporting career. Before games, I would never focus on my own team or my personal preparation for that match. Instead I would resort to thinking about how good or tall the opposing team looked. I never had confidence in my own abilities, even though I had worked really hard. As a result, I didn’t have a successful competition and my team came last. With this competition, I learnt that having the skills doesn’t always cut it. You have to believe in yourself in order to succeed. Sometimes you’ll find out the hard way, but this can be the best way to learn.

I was invited to the first Aussie Invitational Cup held in Sydney in 2013. It consisted of three divisions (Men’s, Women’s and Youth) and comprised of the Top 12 players in each division. My team never lost a match and we won the final 9-2. Later in the year, the Australian Goalball 2013 Nationals were held in Perth for the first time. I played in the Youth competition. My team and I had a successful tournament, winning a majority of our games and qualifying through to the final against NSW. This game was one of the most intense games of Goalball I have ever played. We drew at half time (2-2) and full time (4-4). A goal in over-time broke the deadlock, but unfortunately it was NSW that won 5-4. I was presented with Most Valuable Player, Highest Goal Scorer and was selected to be part of the All-Stars team.

In 2013, I had also started to play Blind Cricket. I was encouraged to play by Bradley Brider and Daniel Pritchard. At first I was unsure, as I didn’t think it would be the sport for me. However, I fell in love with the sport and played in the 2013/2014 season.

At the presentation night, I was awarded Best Partial Player, Most Runs Scored and Best Fielder. This achievement filled me with great pride. I will always owe my cricket career to Brad and Dan because without them, I would never have given Blind Cricket a try.

In 2014, I was invited to the Aussie Invitational Cup. Our team won gold. I also had the opportunity to attend a Blind Cricket training camp in Brisbane. This ensured I was able to play in New Zealand in early 2015.

Looking back, 2015 was a massive year in my sporting career. In January, I travelled to New Zealand to represent Australia in the Trans-Tasman series. I was a part of the Australian Blind Cricket Team, which was referred to as Aussie A, the developmental side. We were to play New Zealand in five T20 matches, and a T40 match. We carried out a clean-sweep of the series, winning all six games. I made 95 runs in my first International match and 76 runs in my second match. I was so proud. In March, I was part of the South Australian side that went to Melbourne for the All Abilities Championships, organised by Cricket Australia. I made 43 runs against Victoria and 33 runs in the final match against Queensland. South Australia ended up winning the competition. In April, I was again invited to the Aussie Invitational Cup, competing in the Youth division. My team came 2nd, and I was proud to score the second highest amount of goals overall with 32. In July, I was the captain of the Australian Youth Boy’s Goalball team that went to China (also with the Youth Girls’ Team). My team came 3rd overall. It was a really fantastic trip that allowed us to advance our skills by playing against such seasoned opposition.

Unfortunately, I did not make the 2016 Ashes Squad that was going to take on England in Adelaide. This was a great shock to me. I had believed that I had done enough to make the side. While I did sulk for a little while, I made the decision to take the verdict in my stride and to work even harder. I wanted to surpass boundaries I never thought possible. In January 2016, I travelled to Melbourne where I played for NSW in the Australian Blind Cricket Championships. I made 76 runs in the first match against New Zealand and was the main wicket keeper for NSW throughout the tournament. We came 3rd in the T40 competition, and 3rd in the T20 competition after we lost to South Australia in the Semi-final match. I was named as the best B3 in NSW, and the best overall B3 in the Australia, which was a massive achievement for my first Nationals. My biggest achievement for 2016 was being selected to represent Australian at the Blind Cricket World Cup in 2017, to be held in New Delhi and Mumbai. I am the youngest player on the team and have an important role as the backup wicket-keeper for the team.

The Australian Goalball Nationals 2016 was held in Ipswich, Queensland. I played in the Youth competition and Western Australia won all but one game. Consequently, we made it into the final against NSW. After a poor 1st half (3-0 to NSW), we crawled back to 8-7 score, before unfortunately running out of time. We came 2nd overall and I received the Highest Goal Scorer Award for my 38 goals. I was also selected for the All-stars team. In November, I travelled to Adelaide as part of the U16’s Goalball WA team that were playing in the Pacific School Games. I was the oldest on the team and was selected as the captain. After a rocky start, we went on to win our remaining seven games. In the final against South Australia, we fought hard and ended winning 9-7. We won the gold medal and I was the Highest Goal Scorer of the competition with 114 goals.

In April, I was invited to the Aussie Invitational Cup where I played in the Men’s division. Our team comprised of some of the youngest members of the Senior squad; the oldest was 23. After losing our opening game, we went on a winning streak and ended up being successful in the final match, 12-11. It was a nail-biting final, as the opposing team had 1.2 seconds to throw before the buzzer sounded the end of the match. I scored 10 goals during the tournament.

I would like to finish by saying that without sport, I would not be the person I am today. I have met so many incredible people that have all their own lessons and experiences to share with me. They have been a great help to me. Through sport, I have found people that I can count on for support and guidance. I am also so grateful for my parents and would like to thank my parents for where I am today. They have given me so much love and support in order for me to achieve my dreams!

Steffan