21-year-old José Vaskess grew up playing AFL, watching games and supporting his beloved Essendon.
This week the Emerald local travelled to Sydney to wear the big V jumper and represent Victoria at the 2019 AFL National Inclusion Carnival competition.
As a child, Jose was diagnosed with cognitive disabilities, but it was sport that managed to hold his focus.
“José was always incredibly good at sport, at age two he was climbing apple trees and I had to put my fears aside and let him go for it,” José’s mum, Catriona said.
A talented horse rider, Jose was named Riding Develops Abilities State dressage champion at age 10, but instead he chose to focus on football.
From the age of eight José started watching AFL.
He played mainstream junior football from ages 10 – 15, and returned to the sport a couple of years ago, joining Ferntree Gully Eagles in the FIDA League – a Victorian football league for people with an intellectual disability.
“The FIDA league has provided a positive environment for José, providing the necessary support, enabling new friendships, and an opportunity to excel, it has done wonders for self-esteem,” Catriona said.
Despite excelling on the sporting field, José had challenges transitioning out of school into employment, but in 2017, he was able to join the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which provided support to enable him to volunteer at local primary schools.
José is now a PE teacher’s assistant, volunteering three days a week at three schools close to home. His NDIS funding also provides support workers who assist him each day.
“José’s goal is to be a sports coach, and the NDIS has been really good for him because we could tailor his funding to meet his needs,” Catriona said.
“The funding and the support workers at school mean he’s learning life skills and workplace expectations while at the same time being actively involved in his great love of sport.
“It’s also providing structure, and the opportunity to surround him with positive role models.”
José’s support workers also accompany him to the local football every second weekend, so he can continue to support the Emerald Football Club.
The club recently provided him with the opportunity to meet Dustin Fletcher, one of his footy idols.
The NDIS also provides funding for his occupational therapy, the first such funding available to him since primary school.
When Catriona and Jose’s dad Ian reflect on the progress José has made to now represent his state, they’re filled with pride.
“It’s really significant because we get to see him do what he loves at a really high level.
“It reinforces the fact that he’s highly accomplished as a sportsperson, that makes us really proud.”
According to Jose, he loves the Carnival because he gets to play footy, his great love, for a whole week.