SYDNEY — What started out as rehab for an injury sustained in cross-country running has resulted in Alex Tuckfield competing at the Tokyo Paralympics.

The 16-year-old swimmer from St. Patrick’s College in suburban Sydney goes into the Games as the third-fastest 400-meter S9 freestyler in the world, and he has high hopes of a medal.

Born with cerebral palsy, he is one of the youngest members of the largest Australian team to compete at a Paralympics overseas.

For Tuckfield, competing at the Paralympics has been a dream since he entered the water five years ago as part of his therapy after injuring his foot. A relative newcomer to the sport, he said from the moment he entered the water, he knew that’s where his future lay.

“I have sacrificed a lot to get to Tokyo but, looking back, it’s all been worth it,” he said. “Competing at the Tokyo Olympics has been a dream for so long, and I am just so happy to finally get here.”

Despite his disability resulting in limited strength on his right side, Tuckfield said his school friends were genuinely surprised when he told them he was competing in the Paralympics.

“When I told them, most people said they didn’t even know I had a disability,” he said.

“After going to school with them all through primary and high school, some of them had no idea; the only thing that would give anything away was the splint I wear on my leg.”

Every morning he’s up at 4:30 to hit the pool at 5; he returns for two hours after school.

Parents Agnes and David Tuckfield said they are extremely proud of everything their son has achieved.

“He wouldn’t let anything stop him getting to the Paralympics,” Agnes Tuckfield said. “It’s been a lot of hard work and dedication on Alex’s behalf as well as our family’s. We sacrificed a few things like holidays, weekend getaways and even family and friend get-togethers, and Alex’s social life has been pretty much nonexistent due to his rigorous training schedule.”

Janine Kenny, principal of St. Patrick’s College, said the whole school community would be cheering for him.

“Everyone here at the college is so excited for Alex,” she said. “He has worked so hard for this, and we are very proud of his achievements.

“We are all behind Alex and wish him all the best for the Games.”

Cramsie is a writer and commentator for The Catholic Weekly, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Sydney.