Liam Richardson was named the Bendigo Academy of Sport’s athlete of the year. Photo: Andrew Perryman.

SPRINTER Liam Richardson is setting himself for a return to national colours after taking out the Bendigo Academy of sport’s top award.

Richardson was last Friday named the academy’s athlete of the year, winning the prestigious Gary Tierney Memorial Scholarship.

In doing so he became the first para-athlete to win the award, but he admits that’s a title that doesn’t sit easily with him.

“It’s probably a bit mixed I guess. At first I was like ‘that’s pretty cool’ but I guess it shouldn’t be noteworthy in a way because para-athletes at the elite level train just as hard as able-bodied athletes,” he said.

Richardson’s 2017 took him to Switzerland for the World Junior Para Athletics Championships, where he competed in the combined T35-38 class 100-metre and 200-metre sprints.

He finished first in the T35 for both, and 11th and 9th overall.

Richardson has mild cerebral palsy and competes in the T35 class against other athletes who have a similar level of muscular impairment. The T refers to track and 35 to the degree of the angle formed by the leg when raised as far as the athlete can.

Despite those results he came away somewhat disappointed.

“I just thought I wasn’t at my best, but it was an awesome experience,” he said.

“It’s so different to competition here where you are driving from here to Melbourne or Sydney and there you just sit in a hotel and keep yourself busy for the days before a competition.

“It was really good in terms of learning off other people and just seeing what competing at that level is like.”

This year, the 17-year-old is juggling training and year 12 at Girton Grammar and has been managing injuries which have limited his training.

“I’m pretty limited in the training I can do because of the injuries at the moment, but I’m hoping I’m almost past that,” he said.

At his busiest, he travels to Melbourne several times a week to train under the supervision of coach Nick Wall and trains locally other nights of the week.

When he returns to competition he is using the experience of his top level competition to fuel his long-term dream, to get to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“Next goal would be Doha 2019 which is the open world championships and I’m hoping if everything goes my way and I can get over the injuries I’ll make that team,” he said.

“Tokyo 2020 is the ultimate goal, being able to go to Tokyo would be a special moment if I could make it.

“First thing’s first, just get to nationals next year if I can, and then hopefully qualify for Doha and work from there.”

Other winners in the academy’s 2017/18 awards included Coach of the Year Todd Broadbent, Gel Klein-Boonschate taking out the Outstanding Service Award.

– Joel Peterson