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Going for Gold—Rachael’s COVID-19 vaccine story

Paralympian athlete in yellow and green Olympic uniform pointing at gold medal

Rachael Watson is getting ready to race, to get back in the water and give it her all.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games she wrote herself a page in the history books when she won gold and set a new Paralympic record in the women’s 50m freestyle S4. Now, she’s getting ready to race in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and defend her title.

“All us athletes just want to have the chance to race for what we’ve trained for the last five years. The opportunity to race again, just being able to get there and get in the pool and give it my best, that’s what I’m most looking forward to.”

After months and months of training, the Games are finally here, and Rachael is glad she could continue her training with COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns affecting South East Queensland over the past few months.

“Training was a bit different this time around, but we were very fortunate to get an exemption from Queensland Health to train when restrictions were in place. It was like being in our own little bubble – it felt pretty safe.”

Participating in the Games and travelling to Tokyo meant making a decision about getting vaccinated.

“To participate in the Games, the COVID-19 vaccine was compulsory for all Australian athletes. And because we all have underlying health conditions, it was important for us have the vaccine.”

Paralympian woman in a wheel cheer kisses black and white sheepdogBut for Rachael, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was a choice she made for herself.

“I’ve been really concerned about the virus, and I wanted to feel safe while out in the community. I know I can still catch the virus even after getting vaccinated, but I won’t end up with severe illness. This makes me feel much more at ease.”

Rachael was comfortable to get theCOVID-19 vaccine after speaking with her GP and was glad she could get vaccinated in time for the Games. She received the AstraZeneca vaccine due to timing of the dose prior to leaving for Tokyo. What she didn’t know, was how the side effects were going to affect her.

“I had some pretty tough side effects. After my first AstraZeneca dose I had a migraine, nausea, fever, muscle pains and felt really lethargic for a few days. I actually missed a couple of weeks of training.”

COVID-19 vaccine side effects can be different for everyone. For Rachael, the benefits of the vaccine far outweighed any concerns she had about side effects.

“I was relieved I got the vaccine; these side effects were a small price to pay to protect me from severe illness if I were to contract the virus. And I knew, if I had any concerns, I could talk to my GP at any time.”

Now fully vaccinated, and freshly landed in Tokyo, Rachael is getting ready for another shot at gold – and perhaps a new world record too!

Yellow Olympic swimming cap reading ‘Watson’ and Olympic ring displayed in a boxOnce COVID-19 restrictions on travel have eased, she is keen to return to Tokyo and explore more of the city and other parts of Japan. In the meantime, Rachael is looking forward to getting back to some of her other passions. This includes being part of the Metro South Health Disability Committee to help improve medical care and communication for people with disability and making sure people with any ability know “they can be active, achieve their dreams and be inspired”.

You’re golden, Rachael!

The Tokyo Paralympics will be held from 25 August to 6 September 2021. Tune in to watch Rachael race Thursday 2nd September 9:00am - 11:35am (AEST).

Last updated: 27 August 2021