Women of the Peninsula: Olivia Hargroder

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Peninsula Life share with you the stories and achievements of women from all walks of life around our region.

There are not many 18-year olds that can say they have achieved even half of what Olivia Hargroder has achieved in her lifetime; an address to the United Nations, a successful public speaking and acting career, and most recently being awarded Young Citizen of the Year.

If that wasn’t enough, Olivia is also an accomplished competitive swimmer petitioning to change the sport for people with disabilities.

Born with Down Syndrome, Olivia has faced many battles in her life but has defied the odds and is proving there is no limitation to what she (or anyone with Down Syndrome) can achieve.

Walking into Olivia’s home,  I was greeted by a big smile, a fluffy dog named Dolly and an enthusiasm for life that was utterly contagious. Sitting down with Olivia over a cup of coffee, it was easy to see why her impact on the world has been so influential to date.

“Australians love their sport,” explains Olivia when asked about her current petition and advocacy to change competitive swimming around the world.

“I have been swimming since I was born and it’s so important to me, so when provided the opportunity to address the United Nations I decided to tell them about how people with Down Syndrome should not be held back and raise awareness about the Paralympics.”

“Currently there are three categories or ‘boxes’ in the Paralympics – physical impairment, visual impairment and intellectual impairment. I am trying to get another box for people in the Paralympics for Down Syndrome.”

“When we compete, we have to compete in the intellectual impairment category which is not fair as people in that category are bigger and stronger than us.”

“With Down Syndrome, we might also be facing physical and visual impairments but cannot compete in those categories. By making us compete against able bodied people, we are at a disadvantage. For things to be fair, we should have our own box.”

Olivia explains that personally she has battled many physical ailments, including open heart surgery, knee surgery to have both kneecaps aligned, surgery on her right foot to remove excess bones, as well as a number of other surgeries related to her syndrome.

Olivia’s address to the United Nations in March 2017 not only brought about awareness of this issue, but also was a chance for Olivia to share her story and mark World Down Syndrome Day.

“I was nervous at first but when I started telling my story I was really confident and happy to be there.”

When asked about her greatest achievement, Olivia shares that recently being awarded Moreton Bay Regional Council Young Citizen of the Year tops the list.

“I was so happy to be nominated for the award and then to win was just amazing.”

It is Olivia’s significant contribution to her field of interest (advocating for those with a disability) and her inspirational role modelling that saw her awarded with this achievement.

When asked what advice she would give to people who are facing adversity, Olivia says “be yourself and go with the flow. Life is full of ups and down but if you get knocked down, you need to get back up and continue to do whatever you want to do.”

She also wants women to “work on that special thing that makes you who you are.”

Olivia is off to compete at The Special Olympics National Games in Adelaide in April of this year and hopes that her dream of seeing greater equality in swimming classification will soon be a reality.


If you would like to support Olivia with her petition to advocate for more appropriate categories in competitive swimming, head to change.org and search “Olivia Hargroder”

Olivia’s petition is called “Change the box to allow athletes with Down Syndrome to compete in the Paralympics and help Olivia to make a change” and is currently less than 1500 signatures off submission.