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Ten Minutes with... Christie Dawes, athlete, schoolteacher, mum

1110-10-minsNewcastle wheelchair athlete Christie Dawes has competed at every Paralympic Games since Atlanta in 1996, and will be competing in her fifth games in London. Her son Charlie was born in February 2011, just 12 months after she won the 10km wheelchair-road-race world championship. Since then, Christie has juggled intense training with her role as a mum.

What’s been the biggest parenting challenge?

Before I had Charlie I used to babysit my sister's kids occasionally. I'd be all prepared: have the house clean beforehand and the fridge stocked with food, thinking, 'This will be easy'. By the end of the day, I was absolutely exhausted. I expected parenthood to be like that. I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised. Being a parent hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be.


Like most parents, I think the early morning starts are the toughest. Charlie was sleeping really well from about three months, from 6pm through to six in the morning, but lately he has been waking up at around 4.30am! There's the challenge of preparing fresh, nutritious meals and then having them rejected by a fussy eater. That can drive me crazy. Drew and I are fairly relaxed parents, though, and nothing fazes us too much.


Describe your favourite childhood memory.

One moment really sticks in my mind. I grew up at Marmong Point, and I remember going to Speers Point Park for New Year's Eve in 1988 with my mum, dad and sister. It was such a fun night: from the expectation of driving past the big 'What’s happening?' sign on the way in to just hanging out together in the crowd. I have this particular memory of us all having a big group hug just as the fireworks were going off at midnight.


What experiences did you have as a kid that you want your kids to have?

I hope Charlie can still have some of the freedom we had as kids. I'd like him to come home after school, have a snack, then head out on his bike, not coming home until the streetlights come on. Hopefully there will also be plenty of climbing trees, building swings and forts and having jellyfish fights at the lake. Those are some of my favourite memories too, just getting out and enjoying life.


Is there a phrase you hated hearing from your parents and swore you'd never say to your kids but already have?

Probably something about how spoiled children are "these days". I’ve become really turned off by all the plastic colourful junk kids seem to accumulate, and how much money we feel we have to spend on them. It's overwhelming. I'd rather Charlie had fewer toys, but good quality. Otherwise it seems such a waste. Especially when at the moment he's much happier just ripping up the pamphlets that come in the mail!


How will you celebrate Charlie's first birthday?

We'll probably have a picnic at Dixon Park with family and friends, just playing on the swings and having fun. I want to keep it simple.


What three qualities are you hoping to teach your children?

Be yourself, whatever that is. Don't be afraid to say what's in you. Be determined. It's OK to be challenged in life, just don't give up. Respect. Be nice to people. It's such a simple thing.


Who inspires you as a parent?

Definitely my mum, hands down. Dad died when I was nine years old, and 12 months later was the car accident that left me in a wheelchair. It must have been tough raising two girls on one income, yet she showed such strength. She is my inspiration. If I'm half as good a mum as she is, then I'm doing all right.


This article was first published in the October 2011 edition of Newcastle's Child.


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