Paralympian Stephen Gregson is a local Liverpool legend, however, during National Carers Week – running from 10-16 October – the spotlight is on his parents Allan Gregson OAM and Margaret Gregson OAM.
The week is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the 2.65 million Australians who provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend.
Allan and Margaret Gregson have been full-time carers for their son Stephen since he was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy when he was just six years old. Stephen started losing his sight at 11 years old, prompting the Gregson’s to move from Junee to Sydney to give their son the opportunities a remote country town in NSW was not able to.
“As parents of a child with a disability you always try to do all you can to give them opportunities to participate in activities they enjoy,” Margaret Gregson said.
As a swim volunteer teacher and coach, Allan encouraged Stephen into the water from five months old, building up his strength as a swimmer through regular training sessions at Junee Recreation and Aquatic Centre and Michael Wenden Aquatic Wenden Centre.
Allan and Margaret Gregson also become involved with various disability sporting associations as volunteers including the Blind Sports & Recreation NSW/ACT and Cerebral Palsy Sporting and Recreation Association NSW, an organisation they helped form.
Stephen would represent Australia internationally in swimming at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled 1982, Cerebral Palsy World Championships 1986 and Seoul Paralympics 1988 where he made the finals in backstroke.
While working in supported employment at the NSW Royal Blind Society, Stephen met Kathy, who also was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Later, they were married in 1986. In the same way as he did with his son, Allan taught Kathy to swim, and she too represented Australia at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled and World Championships.
From 26 years of age, Stephen’s condition gradually deteriorated and following many tests and biopsies, various specialists reversed his diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy to an undiagnosed neurological condition. Since 1999, Stephen has gradually become completely wheelchair bound. He lives as independently as he can with Kathy in Liverpool, who is also under the care of her in-laws.
Allan and Margaret are just one of the almost 19,000 people providing unpaid assistance to a person with a disability in the Liverpool Local Government Area – comprising 11.9 per cent of the population aged over 15.
For Margaret, National Carers Week serves as a reminder to the community that there are millions of people caring for their loved ones unconditionally every day, and a reminder to carers they are not alone in the challenges they face.
“It’s not easy but it is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had over the past 59 years right from the very start of Stephen’s life. I believe most carers in my position who have had to support a child born with a disability would feel the same way,” Margaret Gregson said.
This year’s theme announced by Carers Australia and the National Carers Network is ‘Millions of Reasons to Care’ encompassing the diversity of carers and their caring roles – whether it’s supporting a family member or friend who has a disability, mental health condition, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug-related issue or who are frail aged.
According to statistics from Carers Australia, unpaid carers were estimated to be providing 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care last year, a figure which is likely to have increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sydney’s Liverpool City Council is a proud supporter of National Carers Week and have facilitated a week-long online event of activities, workshops, and information sessions in partnership with Wellways Carer Gateway program, Parks Community Network Inc, Settlement Services International and Canterbury-Bankstown Council.
Mayor of Liverpool, Wendy Waller said carers should be celebrated all year round for the amazing work they do not only for the person under their care but for the community at large.
“Cares are among the unsung heroes of our community embodying empathy, reliance and self-sacrifice.
“Liverpool City Council continues to support initiatives to improve access and inclusion within our community because we know everyone benefits, not just those with a disability but their carers, friends and family,” Mayor Waller said.
“Together, what we achieved with our son Stephen and later our daughter-in-law Kathy was wonderful. Both were able to overcome some extremely difficult physical obstacles to achieve their goals,” Margaret Gregson said.
“Our proudest moment remains Stephen being named Liverpool’s ‘Young Citizen of the Year’ on Australia Day in 1983.”