Skip to content
Curtin University
John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Priya Cooper (1998)

Priya Cooper had just broken a world record in the 400-metre freestyle when she heard she was one of the inaugural recipients of the John Curtin Medal.

“It has been an incredible day for me,” the 24-year old Curtin student exclaimed after knocking more than two seconds off the record at the recent Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Ms Cooper, who has cerebral palsy, virtually leapt into the deep end of competitive swimming when she took up the sport as a form of therapy. Top performances at a school carnival revealed her swimming potential, and in her first national competition she won a staggering nine gold medals.

Her swimming career gathered momentum and in 1994 she went to the World Swimming Championships for the Disabled in Malta as captain of the Australian team.

She was female captain of the Australian team at the tenth Paralympic Games in Atlanta and won numerous gold, silver and bronze medals for her efforts in the pool. Winning the most medals of any Australian athlete at the Atlanta Paralympics, she carried the Australian flag at the closing ceremony.

“Curtin has done so much for me,” Ms Cooper said. “Everyone has always been really helpful with my swimming and helping me achieve all my goals. So to get this honour from the University is just amazing.”

The health promotion and journalism student balances her studies with a rigorous training schedule and still finds time to give motivational talks on her subject, ‘Success is a Choice’. Her talk recently received a standing ovation at a Sydney Olympics Organising Committee function attended by 800 people.

Ms Cooper is no stranger to medals and awards. She holds an Order of Australia medal, and her accolades include being selected as an Australia Day Ambassador, Ambassador for Sydney 2000, being nominated for WA Sports Champion of the Year and Coca-Cola Sports Star of the Year, being inducted into the Australian Institute of Sport Hall of Fame and receiving the Institute’s Outstanding Achievement award.

But the John Curtin Medal is a huge thrill.

“It is a great honour to receive this inaugural award and even be nominated,” she said. “Knowing of John Curtin’s history in WA and Australia and his connection with the University, it’s amazing that I am even considered in that league.”