Heartwarming final moments with his Pop
IN A YEAR stacked with sporting accolades, the highest honour for Cooper Whitestyles was celebrating with his grandfather one final time.
Whitestyles was awarded the Mackay Australia Day Junior Sports Award for his enthralling rise to success in wheelchair basketball and lawn bowls.
The young athlete said when he reflected on 2019 his fondest memories would be with his Pop, who died in November.
The last victory the two celebrated together was when Whitestyles took bowls gold in both singles and doubles at the Multi-disability Queensland State Championships.
"That was one of my biggest achievements and I was so proud I got to do that before I had to say goodbye," he said.
While his grandfather died nine days before Whitestyles was presented with his Australian wheelchair basketball jersey for the Kitakyushu Cup in Japan, the two shared a special moment before.
"As soon as Mum told him I was selected to play for Australia he started crying," he said.
"Knowing how he felt about that made me happy that I could make him proud."
The 20-year-old Mackay athlete grew up in a strong sporting family.
He was born with achondroplasia, which is a genetic disorder that results in dwarfism, but said his family's input never let him see his disability as such.
"My parents always wanted me to be treated the same and (did) not want me raised differently," he said.
"Whatever I wanted to do when I was younger they let me have a go."
Whitestyles always leant towards physical sport, thriving on the adrenaline rush that came with it.
He has been a well respected name across several sporting codes.
Whitestyles also lent his time to help coach a women's hockey team at Arsenals.
"The coaching role popped up when I realised I couldn't play. I really wanted to, but with my medical condition it didn't seem possible at the time," he said.
"I thought if I couldn't play I could help out in other ways."
His mother, Dolly Whitestyles, and aunt, Vicky Gibson, both played the sport.
Gibson played for Australia in 2018 in the Under-35 Masters in the World Cup.
"The whole family has been sporty, so I was brought up in that environment," Whitestyles said.