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Spotlight: The Ex-Paralympian Who Can’t Smile Changing The Face Of Sport

Poolside’s Spotlight series puts the focus on inspirational people, setting out to make a difference.

Tayla Clements is an ex-paralympian and world record holder. Now, she’s changing the face of sport.

This week for our Spotlight series we spoke to Tayla on life with Moebius Syndrome and how she’s setting out to make the sporting arena more inclusive.

Tayla was born with an extremely rare neurological condition known as Moebius Syndrome. It affects the muscles that control facial expression and eye movement, and for Tayla, means she’s unable to smile. She grew up with bullying, feeling isolated, and eventually found herself in sport. 

In an interview with Poolside, Tayla said: “I think any amount of bullying is hard for any one person to endure, but it wasn’t just the bullying that left a severe impact on me, it was also the fact that there wasn’t anyone for me to look up to in the media or within society that I could relate to or see myself in. I think with the bullying and lack of representation it just left me feeling very alone and isolated. The bullying itself was extremely traumatic.”

“I realised that I was the only one that should have control of my own narrative, and after that realisation around the age of 20 is when I really started to realise that I wasn’t what other people said that I am. It changed my perspective on how I saw myself and my syndrome and became really empowered to flip the script.”

Tayla threw herself into sport and early on, was invited to join the National Paralympic swimming camps, going on to represent her country.

“Growing up being an athlete was just a part of my life, I come from a very active family so I dont think I wasn’t ever not going to be doing some type of sport. I think if I wasn’t swimming throughout school or went into athletics when I did, I’m not sure what would have happened. Being an athlete gave me an identity that I desperately needed at the time, but in the long run and looking back on it, wasn’t really a healthy identity. Because I was quite young and performing at a high level I didn’t have the support that I needed around me and that I should have had.” 

“Being an athlete taught me a lot and gave me some really good values to live by, and also gave me the mental and physical strength and discipline I needed to get through everything that I did. The medals and records were great at the time and growing up I measured my success off of those things, but knowing what I know now, being a high performance athlete isn’t all that it's talked up to be.”
It was here that Tayla decided to switch her path and focus on making the sporting world more inclusive. Her focus is on equal representation within sport, specifically within the media, and is something the industry is more often lacking.

“I noticed from all the sports that I watch and am a fan of, there was no one like myself on the sidelines or on track or in front of the camera. In terms of inclusivity there are a lot of different sectors around the world that are doing a really good job at becoming more and more inclusive and having different types of people from all walks of life being represented, but the sporting world as a whole isn’t one of them.”

“I love sport, I watch a lot of different sports and now I'm focused on being that face and voice of inclusivity, representation and inspiration that the sporting world is really lacking right now. Just because I was born with a rare syndrome doesn’t make me any less able than someone who wasn’t born with a rare syndrome and I want to be that source of inspiration for others.”

“It annoys me that we still have to use words like inclusivity and representation and that we are still having to work towards having those two things within society as a whole. But, it also lights a fire within me and gives me something to challenge and work for!”

As an individual, Tayla has faced moments of doubt, high pressure, and faced failure head on.

“I think failure as a whole is subjective, someone could get a bronze medal in a race instead of the gold that they had wanted and see that bronze medal as a failure when there are probably about 100 other participants who would trade spots with you in that bronze medal position in a heartbeat just to get on the podium. I think sometimes people are so laser focused on achieving or attaining one specific outcome and when they don't get it they think its a failure, when in reality they’re probably only a step or two away from that desired outcome, so I think “failing” is just apart of life and it's about changing your perspective towards it.”

“My overall vision is to be a face and voice of representation on a global scale in the sports arena, taking that to the biggest level I can. Working with brands and organisations from the inside out, to have someone like myself front and centre and in the public eye to be seen and heard, because I know that if little Tayla (my younger self) had seen someone like me in the public eye, she definitely would have felt less alone or isolated. I know it would have given me hope and inspiration.”

Follow Tayla's journey on Instagram here


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