Special bonds: MacAuley College trio united by challenge
WHEN James Bertalli was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the first phone number his mother was given was that of Mitchell Christansen's family.
Ever since, the two Grafton youngsters have enjoyed a special bond as they face the challenges of growing up with their physical disabilities.
But don't be fooled by their mild manners or politeness if you ever get the chance to shake their hand.
On the athletics track or in the shot put ring, the two undergo a dramatic transformation.
As Christiansen, 15, hears the rush of wind in his ears as he reaches top speed,
Or as Bertalli,14, watches his 3kg shot put sail out of his hand, little else matters.
They are athletes, and they are competing.
James' older brother Matthew Bertalli, gets the same feeling on the rugby field (see page 31).
It is this spirit of competition which unites them all as "brothers".
It is also the reason behind their recent individual successes.
James and Mitch have just returned from Canberra after doing battle in the Australian Athletes With Disability Junior Championships at the Institute of Sport.
Bertalli finished with a silver medal in the shot put with a competition-high throw of 9.41m.
He also ran personal best times to get into the top 10 in both the 100m and 200m sprint events.
"The bloke who won gold was a year older, and even though I just beat him in the distance thrown, he won because of the classification system," Bertalli said.
"The AIS facilities were all right, but not as good as at Homebush at the Olympic stadium."
Bertalli did his best to keep up with Christiansen who excels on the track.
But as his McAuley high classmates will tell you, he's a pretty hard man to catch.
"I finished seventh in both the 100m and 200m, but I was fourth in the 400m and fifth in the 800m which I was pretty happy with," Christiansen said.
"James and I don't normally race each other at school carnivals but in the AWD competitions there are only two divisions, under-15s and under 20s."
Last month Christiansen returned from the state championships with a swag of medals - four gold and one bronze.
Both of these promising young athletes are members of the North Coast Academy of Sport Australian Athletes With Disability program which caters for swimming and track/field athletes.
They get specialist training once a month with Jenny Duffield and coach Terry West.
With the end of the school year fast approaching, the athletes will have to wait until next year before their next official events.
But with brothers like these, you can still bet there will be plenty of competition.