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Kathleen O'Kelly-Kennedy

Create an experience with Kathleen O'Kelly-Kennedy

Paralympic Athlete

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About me

  • Paralympics
  • Water Sports
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Basketball Australia
  • Kayak
  • Athlete

Set No Limits

Life for adventurous, fun-loving Kathleen O’Kelly-Kennedy has been anything but dull. Born on 21 June 1986 with one leg shorter than the other, her right foot was amputated when she was just eighteen months old. It wasn’t long before Kathleen mastered the art of life with an artificial leg, and, growing up in a very sporty family, Kathleen soon was playing many sports and showing a particular talent for basketball. Her mentors, Paralympians Don Elgin and Tim Matthews, convinced her to try Paralympic sport, providing a turning point that would later see her travel across the world to pursue her passion. 

In 2000 Kathleen led the way in a fund-raising effort to ensure a group of young children with missing limbs could go to Sydney to witness the Paralympics. Her generous nature still sees her heavily involved with creating opportunities for those less fortunate. 

Her wheelchair basketball career started with Victorian Women's Wheelchair Basketball team in 2002 and there was to be no turning back. In 2003, Kathleen took the next step in her impressive career when she became part of the Australian Development Team and participated in her first overseas tournament in New Zealand. Representing Australia for the first time in a senior team later that year, she played in the Tri-Nation Tournament in the United States. Following Kathleen’s high school graduation in 2004, she received a sports scholarship to the University of Illinois, where she was coached by the legendary Mike Frogley. Kathleen went on to win three consecutive US National Championships with the University of Illinois team. In one game she scored a career high of 42 points. 

From 2006 to 2015 she held a scholarship with the Victorian Institute of Sport. The hard work over many years paid off in 2008 when Kathleen rolled out with the Australian Women’s Basketball team at the Paralympic Games in Beijing. The Gliders defeated  Japan in the bronze medal game. 

Another highlight was Kathleen’s recruitment by Italian Men's Professional League team Anmic Sassari for the 2010-11 season, and by the reigning champions, Lottomatica Elecom Roma, in the following year. In 2012 Kathleen received her biggest blow in her wheelchair basketball career when she missed out on making the team for the London Paralympic Games. She now looks at that experience as a life changer, it has made her stronger, more resilient and more determined while it also helped her to see the 'bigger picture' and learn that "...even when you give something everything you've got, it won't always go your way, but the definition of 'braveness' to me, is in knowing there is a chance of failure, but still putting everything on the line to succeed. There's a lot to be proud of if you've done that." 

Kathleen also competed at the 2006 World Championships in Amsterdam, and bounced back from her 2012 disappointment to represent Australia a second time at the 2014 World Championships in Toronto and retired from National team commitments not long after.

In 2015 Kathleen competed professionally again, this time in Germany for the Koln 99ers. 

in 2016 Kathleen was selected to represent Australia at the United Nations in New York for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Kathleen was a panelist discussing the Paralympics as a driver for sustainable and inclusive development.

Kathleen has studied speech and hearing science at the University of Illinois, and with Aussie Rollers Captain, Brad Ness, has helped to establish the Red Dust Heelers Campaign, which aims to create more awareness of disability and provide opportunities in sport, education and life for people with disability in Aboriginal and other communities across Australia. They use wheelchair basketball as an 'ice breaker' and as a tool to demonstrate the ability of people with disability.

Kathleen insists that the most challenging yet most rewarding and amazing experience she has had in her life has been away from the court, when she had the honour of caring for 3 young people in foster care.

Kathleen has recently relocated to WA to take up a scholarship at the WA Institute of Sport for Kayaking. She is loving this new challenge and a change of scenery from the basketball court to the Swan River.

Kathleen enjoys being outdoors, going to the beach (and is learning how to surf), camping, practices yoga and pilates and volunteers at Roelands Village (an ex Aboriginal mission) as a mentor for their pre-employment program. Displaying an incredible resilience and passion for helping others, Kathleen O'Kelly-Kennedy is a lady on a mission, and it is hardly surprising that is in demand as a speaker all over Australia.

Close to 10 years experience in public speaking/mentoring, able to cater to many different events/topics including: Fighting back from adversity, body image, self-esteem, learning from failure, what it means to be brave in sport, sacrifice, the importance of a balanced life, courage, goal setting, dedication, team work, embracing your difference and other peoples differences, Paralympic sport, having a go, what it means to be an elite athlete, maintaining motivation, keys to success, the different tricks you can play on people if you're lucky enough to have one leg!

  • 3-time National Champion with University of Illinois, 2006 Amsterdam World Cup, 2014 World Cup, 2008 Beijing Bronze Medal,
  • 2nd Australian woman to play professionally for 2 different mens teams in Italy for 2 years (Sassari & Roma Elecom)
  • 3rd at Europen Championships in Istanbul, Competed at Rowing Nationals 2009 (3rd in single, 3rd in double) 
  • 2013 - stood up on a surf board for the first time!
  • 2016 - Australian Delegate to the United Nations

Based in

  • Western Australia

Available in

  • Western Australia
  • Worldwide
  • Victoria

Available for

  • Birthday party appearance
  • Attend an event
  • Record a video message
  • Deliver a speech
  • Team announcement (captain, awards etc.)
  • Message for specific person
  • Club or event promotion
  • Video Q&A
  • Guest speaking
  • Product launch


Kathleen well and truly completed everything that was outlined in my booking request and completely exceeded my expectations. Kathleen gave an incredible and inspiring speech on the topic of equality – from her perspective as a woman, and as a woman with a disability. The floor was then opened to questions, most of which were largely focused on Kathleen’s personal story, but she was more than happy to share. Kathleen was so personable and had a great, warm energy about her (and even stayed to socialise over morning tea!). It was an absolute pleasure having her as our keynote speaker!
Multiplex Australasia