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23 August 2021
Alberto with his parents, Paul and Julie-Anne Staines, at a recent family wedding.
Making two nations proud at the Paralympic Games
Words Darryl Whitecross
Australian champion runner Alberto ‘Bertie’ Campbell-Staines, a Salvo from Queensland, is to compete in this year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo. He will be running in his favourite event, the 400m, but it won’t be in the green and gold. In his first Games, he’ll be running in the colours of his native Jamaica.
Alberto, 28, was born in Kingston on the Caribbean island of Jamaica but moved to Australia in 2003 with his adoptive parents, Paul and Julie-Anne Staines.
Alberto, an Australian citizen, will offically represent Jamaica in the Paralympics but hopes to make Australia proud as well.
Paul says Alberto would have competed for Australia in Tokyo, but, as this year’s delayed Games rolled around, Australia chose not to send any intellectually disabled athletes in the T20 category [‘20’ is a broad classification for athletes with an intellectual impairment. ‘T’ denotes track events]. Alberto then decided to change his running allegiance to his home country.
While Paul says his son would be the first T20 athlete to represent Jamaica, Alberto was quick to point out that this was not only in athletics but “in any sport!”
“They [Jamaica] don’t have any other T20 athletes, so when they heard that Australia wasn’t looking at taking T20s to the Paralympics, they sent Alberto an email saying, ‘Hey. We’d love you have you on the team’,” Paul shares. “Every race Alberto’s run this season has been under the qualifying time, so they were quite happy to have him on board.”
Alberto has competed for much of this athletics season as a Jamaican runner.
It can take up to three years for the International Paralympics Committee to approve an athlete’s application to change their allegiance, but this time Paul says, “It took only about three months to go through,” adding that Australia had been “fantastic” in fast-tracking the change of allegiance to allow Alberto to compete in Tokyo.
In 2003 Alberto received his first sports award while at school in Jamaica.
For Alberto, competing at the Paralympic Games is the highest honour. “I don’t have any words to explain what this means to me,” he shares. “Oh my goodness. I’m going to the Paralympics! I am so blessed. I’m counting down the days to the opening ceremony [24 August].”
Having competed around the world, representing Australia seven times and running against “the best of the best”, Alberto says going to the Paralympic Games is “the icing on the cake”, even though “I was not expecting to go for Jamaica”.
Alberto says being part of the Tokyo Games will make up for the disappointment of missing out on the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. He had been part of the squad of T20 athletes for Rio but was cut when the final team was announced – due to a quota system each country is required to abide by.
It was a “huge upset” to miss out back then, says Alberto, but as with any of the situations he has faced in his life, his faith remains solid.
“No matter what happens, I give the glory to God. If I don’t win or run a good race, I thank God that no one got injured or hurt. Before every race, I pray for all the other runners and everyone involved in the race. After 2016, I knew that God would intervene and have something even better for me.”
Unfortunately, Paul and Julie-Anne, Alberto’s biggest fans, won’t be there to see their son’s historic races. “There’s no international spectators [allowed] at the Games,” Paul explains. “It’s the first international competition that we’ve missed, which is sad.”
Paul and Julie-Anne adopted Alberto when he was nine. They met him when they were teachers at The Salvation Army School for the Blind in Kingston. At the time, Alberto, although not visually impaired, was living in the Army’s orphanage, The Nest, on the grounds of the school. Julie-Anne was his Grade 1 teacher.
They all returned to Australia in 2003, and Alberto became an Australian citizen in 2006. It wasn’t long before Paul and Julie-Anne realised they had a champion in the making.
“We were getting ready for Alberto’s first-ever sports day,” recounts Paul. “We said, ‘Just do your best and see if you can keep up with your mates’. We had no idea. He won absolutely everything, and the PE teacher came up to us afterwards and said, ‘You might need to look at getting this guy some professional coaching. He’s got some talent’. From there, he’s just gone from strength to strength.”
Alberto received his classification as an athlete with a disability in 2013. He went on to compete in his first world championships representing Australia and won a bronze medal in the 400m. “We thought that was brilliant,” says Paul. “Since then, he’s got another couple of bronze.”
Alberto has a string of awards, medals and achievements to his name. He has been the Queensland 400m champion for the past 11 years and has held the 400m Australian title eight times. He has also won the Australian 200m title.
Paul says the T20 community is close. “They all know each other, and Bertie has mates all around the world. He’s looking forward to catching up with them and competing against them because they haven’t had any international meets since 2019.”
Alberto is passing on his experience as an elite athlete to the students at Citipointe Christian College on Brisbane’s southside, where he works as a physical education teacher aide three days a week. “The school has been an absolutely great support giving him time off to train and compete,” Paul says.
Alberto is determined to “do everything in my power in Tokyo to make Jamaica proud, make Australia proud, and make myself proud.”