Scope employee bounces all the way to Tokyo 2021

As Australia’s steadfast Olympians head home from Tokyo, our Paralympians are just getting started, and this time, Scope is cheering on one of our own.

Community Educator and Administrative Officer, Jake Ballestrino, will be swapping out his Scope lanyard for the iconic green and gold tracksuit as part of the nation’s Paralympic table tennis team.

Feeling “nervous, giddy and a range of emotions”, the 29-year-old said representing Australia on the world stage was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I think this title as Paralympian shows what can be done with the right attitude and support,” Jake said.

“It blows my mind to know that I am going to the Paralympics – it’s something that hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Jake, who has bilateral deformation of the upper limbs meaning his arms are slightly shorter than the average set, began his journey to the Paralympics when he first picked up a paddle ten years ago.

Well served

Initially playing for fun with his dad, Jake soon joined forces with fellow Scope employee Trevor Hirth.

The pair joined a competitive team that took them all the way to nationals where they emerged victorious.

Since then, Jake has dominated at the Para Table Tennis Tournament and has claimed an impressive total of eight gold medals in singles, two silver medals and five bronze medals.

Jake and Trevor, who had since moved on from Scope, were then offered positions in the Australian para table tennis team.


Questioning the status quo

For a decade, he “chipped away” at his goal, beginning with two-hours of training every Sunday, before slowly adding extra sessions.

In 2019, Jake joined Scope part-time as a community educator with the Schools Program, where much of his work focuses on training school students on disability awareness.  

His acting manager, Nicole Marshall, said that Jake’s quirky sense of humour and his commitment to challenge participants is what makes him such an essential member of the team.

“Jake has a really beautiful way of taking information that sits out in theory and making it applicable to a person,” Nicole said.

Jake is also committed to Scopes approach: See the Person, Do it Together, Do it Right and Do it Better.

“He’s very collaborative, and in terms of ‘Seeing the Person’, he personifies that by throwing questions to participants that gives them insight into his lived experience – but he also challenges them to look beyond it.”

Changing people’s minds about disability, Jake said, is extremely rewarding and is a highlight of the role.

“I feel that we are on the right path of becoming more inclusive and empowering people with disabilities,” he said.

“We need to do more in the community – I feel like being a part of Scope and a Paralympian and having that voice to be able to talk to people and change their perception is something I feel humbled by.”

He attributes this achievement to his “determination”, “tenacity” and the support and encouragement of his friends and family.

“Close friends have never treated me like I have a disability, they’ve supported me through life.”

Though he has encountered challenges, Jake doesn’t let his disability define him.

In fact, aside from the occasional “grounding moment”, which he states are small things like difficulty opening a jar of jam, he often doesn’t think about it.

“Disability is part of my identity, but not an important part – it’s one aspect but not the only aspect,” he said.

“If someone asked me to label the three most important things in life, my disability would not be one of them.”

As a send-off for Jake, his close-knit team at Scope created an English to Japanese communications board, which features useful phrases and some of Jake’s personal sayings and mottos.

They also compiled several pre-recorded messages into one long farewell video ahead of his August 19 departure.

We wish Jake all the best and will be cheering him on as he goes for gold!