Meet Izzy the “Superfish” – Australia’s youngest Tokyo Paralympic medallist
At just 15 years old, Isabella (Izzy) Vincent has already achieved more than many athletes can hope to in their careers, with two Paralympic medals to her name.
Selected to be part of the 32 strong Australian Paralympic Swimming Team, Izzy left her hometown of Adelaide in South Australia in mid-July to train in Queensland before jetting off to Tokyo for her first Paralympic Games.
A Chance Conversation
Izzy’s journey to becoming Australia’s youngest Tokyo Paralympic medallist began due to a chance conversation three years ago.
Izzy was born with sacral agenesis, she is missing her sacrum and two vertebrae. Following a surgery three years ago, Izzy was introduced to hydrotherapy as a way to recover, one of her physios mentioned Norwood Swim School and their ENable program.
Izzy explained that she had tried swimming in her younger years but never progressed because she “couldn’t kick”. But when she joined Norwood’s ENable program, her instructor taught her how to adapt her stroke.
“That’s what the whole program at Norwood is about. You can still swim; you just have to adapt the way you do it,” she said. “I don’t use my legs at all, so especially in butterfly, I had to adapt the way I control my body in the water so I still get momentum.”
“I had to be a bit creative with that, and people like Alana Fuller, who was my coach at the time, and my coach now, Shaun Curtis, were really helpful with that.”
Her mum, Toni Vincent, mentions their surprise at never having heard of any programs like this before. She highlights the lack of visibility of these programs out there for people with disabilities
“There are loads of para-sport options, but in SA in particular, you have to be lucky to hear about these opportunities,” Toni said.
“It was just a chance conversation at one hydrotherapy session. Had we not had that conversation, I doubt we would have found it.”
Izzy and her parents discuss the importance of representation and awareness, highlighting that up until Izzy started swimming, they hadn’t come across anyone that had the same challenges.
“Izzy’s at a school where she’s the only kid who’s ever been in a wheelchair, so there are certain rooms she can’t access and Izzy has had to find ways to get around more easily,” Toni said.
Once she joined the swimming environment and became more involved in the para-sports community, she began to realise she wasn’t alone.
“I started to follow people like Ellie Cole on social media, and it gave me the inspiration to create my own page and share my experience.”
Running into Royalty
Thanks to these inspiring members of the swimming community, she felt the Paralympics were a real possibility from the outset.
“The whole community was just so welcoming and I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this and I want to keep doing this for as long as I can’,” she said.
Because Izzy only got involved in swimming quite late, she recalls when she met swimming royalty without realising it.
When Izzy was thirteen, she asked a tall man at a national swimming competition in Adelaide for directions to the warm-up pool. He very genially walked her to the pool, and after thanking the bemused stranger, she continued on her way.
That night, watching the trials back on TV, she pointed out that she’d asked the commentator on the screen for directions that day. Her parents looked at her with shock and burst out laughing – it was Ian Thorpe.
Road to the Paralympics
Although it was a brief encounter with the swimming legend, perhaps some of his swimming prowess rubbed off on Izzy, because much to her surprise, she was selected to represent Australia only two years later.
After falling ill the week before the Australian Paralympic swimming trials, Izzy didn’t set any expectations for her races – she was just happy to be swimming in front of all of her family and friends in Adelaide.
But that didn’t stop her from making the finals and swimming personal bests in all of her events. There were difficult decisions for selectors when looking at the right combination for the team. Those selected would be given an Australia shirt to walk out in.
“I remember the team was about to get announced and I was celebrating with my friends who had made it. Then one of the coaches came up to me and asked if he could talk to me,” she said.
“Then he said, ‘how do you think you’d look in a blue shirt?’ And I said, ‘are you pranking me right now?’ It was really hard for me to process. I definitely didn’t think that I’d make Tokyo.”
Not long after that, she would be joining the likes of Ellie Cole and other Australian Paralympic champions on their way to 80 medals in Tokyo, two of which Izzy helped bring home. She was even featured on the Sydney Opera House!
Inspiring a “Superfish”
Izzy reels off a list of people who have inspired her along the way, but there is one person that has been an inspiration throughout the years – Kurt Fearnley.
“Kurt Fearnley is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time,” she said. “It was amazing growing up and finding someone with the same condition as me, and reading his book as a kid, seeing how much he had achieved.”
It seems Kurt is an equally big fan of Izzy, having invited her out to his Fearnley Dawes Athletic Centre earlier this year and also giving a shout out to the “Superfish” during the commentary of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
When we asked Izzy about her nickname, she mentioned it was from her dad, Phil Vincent, who showed a lot of pride for his daughter’s incredible accomplishments.
Then when Izzy created her Instagram account, she included that in her handle for a bit of fun. It’s since caught on and “now it’s too late to change it”, she said with a laugh.
When an icon like Kurt is giving a shout out to you as Izzy “Superfish”, it’s safe to say that you’re qualified to keep it.
Visions for the Future
Back on home soil, while undergoing her two-week quarantine accompanied by her devoted and loving mum, we ask Izzy what’s next for her.
She mentions that her priority is just getting back into the swing of things at school. We’re reminded of how incredible her achievements are for someone that is only 15, juggling school and friendships alongside an elite sports career.
Beyond that, Izzy’s already got her sights on 2022 and is doing all she can to prepare for the World Para Swimming Championships in Portugal and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. But school and sports aren’t the only things she’s got her eyes on.
Inspired by advocates like Kurt, she also wants to make a splash in promoting inclusivity and awareness, and getting information out there for people with disabilities about the options available to them when it comes to para-sports.
She’s starting that awareness with a couple of speaking spots already booked in with a few local schools.
“I’m working with other multi-class swimmers – we want to get the movement out there,” she said, “not just swimming but all para-sports, especially for younger people so they can get the opportunity earlier.”
“I also want to put sports wheelchairs in schools and raise money for the swimming Multi-Class points system. I’ve got a lot of little projects I want to work on.
While she’s got big dreams, for now, she’s just excited to get out of quarantine and back to see her dad, her number one fan in her brother, and the family pets (four chickens, a turtle and a dog)!
Lumary is honoured to have welcomed Izzy into the family and excited about our new partnership with the incredible and inspiring “Superfish”! Keep your eye on our girl Izzy by following her Instagram page @izzysuperfish.