Priya Cooper OAM


1999 Young Australian of the Year
Paralympics World Champion Swimmer
President – W.A. Disabled Sporting Assoc.
Chair Person – Technology Assisting Disability WA Inc.

Motivational speaker: ‘Success is a Choice’

Priya hails from Perth. Born with cerebral palsy, Priya began swimming at a young age for therapy and later realised her potential as a competitor. It was not until 1991, whilst competing at a school carnival, she was approached to represent Western Australia. Priya competed for the first time in the National Wheelchair Games winning a staggering nine gold medals.

With the hours of long, hard training Priya went from success to success, winning 3 gold and 2 silver medals, and breaking two world records and three Paralympic records at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992. This was her first international competition. Priya won the most medals of any Australian athlete at the Games, and as a result was given the honour of carrying the flag for Australia at the closing ceremony. On arriving back in Australia she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her services to sport, and became an Australia Day Ambassador.

Priya then set her sights on the World Swimming Championships in Malta in 1994. Priya competed in five events, won 5 gold medals and set 4 world records as well as captaining the Australian team.

The lead up to the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta saw Priya compete in 1995 in the Pre-Paralympic Swimming trials in Atlanta winning eight gold medals in eight events and setting one world record. These results focused much attention on her for the subsequent Paralympic Games in 1996.

At the 10th Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Priya led the charge for Australia winning 5 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal, as well as setting three world records and five Paralympic records. Far exceeding her efforts in Barcelona four years earlier. She was also selected to captain the entire Australian Paralympic team, and once again won the highest number of medals of any Australian athlete.

In 1988 Priya competed in the British National Swimming Championships and won 4 gold medals, a bronze medal, and set a world record.

In 1999 Priya was named Young Australian of the Year for Sport, winning the award over other major sporting stars such as Pat Rafter and Ian Thorpe who were also finalists in the Sports category of this prestigious award.

Priya spent almost two years in Sydney prior to Sydney 2000 Paralympics to concentrate on her training and lifelong goal of winning gold for her country, in her country, at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. Despite recovering from major shoulder surgery, Priya achieved her aim and in October 2000 won a gold medal in the 400m Freestyle and three bronze medals in other events.

Priya has a degree in Health Promotion and Journalism from Curtin University of W.A, and is very involved in public speaking. She has addressed major corporate and government conferences and events in Fiji, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Gold Coast, Cairns, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. She is an excellent motivational speaker whose presentation titled ‘Success is A Choice’ reminds us that any dream, large or small, personal or corporate, can come true with the strength of sheer determination.

Her presentation often elicits standing ovations from audiences.



• Captain of the Australian Team at the Atlanta Paralympic Games.

• Highest medal winner of any Australian athlete at the Atlanta Paralympic Games.

• Awarded the key to Sydney as captain of the Australian team.

• Nominated as Coca-Cola Sports Star of the Year Award.

• Australian Institute of Sport – Hall of Fame.

• Australian Institute of Sport Award for Outstanding Achievement.


• Ambassador for Sydney 2000

• Selected to compete in the USA Summer Nationals.

• Finalist in the WADSA Sports Star of the Year.

• Selected as athlete representative for the Olympic/Paralympic Journey.

• Multi-Disability Nationals Swimmer of the Meet.

• Named as an Australia Day Ambassador

• Nominated for the Western Australian Sports Champion of the Year.


• Set a world record at the British Nationals in the 800m Freestyle, and won gold medals in the 100m and 50m Freestyle, 100m Backstroke, 200m Individual Medley and 400m Freestyle, as well as bronze medal in the 100m Backstroke.

• Won five gold medals and set a World/National record at the WADSA Swim Meet.

• Set two world records at the IPC World Swimming Championships in New Zealand in the 400m and 800m Freestyle events, and won three gold and two silver medals in October.

• Was awarded the inaugural John Curtin Special Achievement Medal by Curtin University of W.A. for her competitiveness in sport and goals outside the pool.

• Winner of W.A. Disabled Sports Star of the Year Award.


• At a ceremony in Canberra was named Young Australian of the Year for Sport.

• Won eight gold medals and broke two world records at the International Open German Championships.

• Won two gold medals and broke her own world record at the BT English National Open Swimming Championhsips.

• September – moved to Sydney from Perth to commence training for 2000 Sydney Paralympics.


• April – invited by NSW Government to be one of three Australian swimmers to meet the Queen during her Australian tour. The other two swimmers were Dawn Fraser and Ian Thorpe.

Telstra Opening Swimming Championships – Paralympics qualifiers. Priya qualified for the 2000 Paralympics in 100m Freestyle, 400m Freestyle, 100m Backstroke, 100m Butterfly and 200m Individual Medley.

• Sustained shoulder injury – shoulder surgery.

• October – Sydney 2000 Paralympics. Despite recovering from shoulder surgery won a gold medal in the 400m Freestyle, and bronze medals in the 100m Freestyle, 4x100m Freestyle Relay and 4x100m Medley Relay.

• November – announced as a Centenary of Federation Ambassador for 2001.


• Australia Day Ambassador.

• Centenary of Federation Ambassador.

• Appointed to the board of NRMA Foundation.

• Signed by Seven Network as commentator for 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and as a reporter on lifestyle and entertainment programs such as Sydney Weekender, Great Outdoors and Big Arvo.


• Ambassador for NSW Cerebral Palsy Association.

• Channel Seven sports/lifestyle presenter.

• Commonwealth Games – Manchester as commentator for Channel Seven.

• Perth to Rottnest Island Solo Swim – 20kms. 5hrs 45 mins.


• Celebrate W.A. Citizen of the Year Committee.

• Eventscorp Events Committee

• Commenced work with Dennis Lillee Disabled Sports Foundation raising funds and awareness for people with disabilities to be involved in sport.

• Competed in the Rottnest Island Swim in a duo team with Shane Gould to raise funds for Dennis Lillee Disabled Sports Federation.

• Commentator/special comments for SBS TV (official Paralympics broadcaster) for 2004 Athens Paralympics.

• Married Rod Bonsack.


• Business News 40 Under 40 Awards winner.

• Gave birth to first child – Olivia.


• Continues to work with Dennis Lillee Disabled Sports Foundation raising funds and

awareness for people with disabilities to be involved in sport.

• Gave birth to her second child (Harrison).


• Be Active Foundation Ambassador.

• National Disability & Carers’ Council – board member.

• W.A.Disabled Sports Association – Vice President.

• Edge Employment Solutions (finding employment for people with disabilities) board.

• Inducted into the Western Australian inaugural International Women’s Day Hall of Fame.

Photo Gallery


Personal Testimonials

It is the first time in the years I have been involved in the Association that I have seen a guest speaker receive a standing ovation at our annual state conference. Priya received two. She made members laugh, she made them cry and she challenged them. She was truly inspirational. We thank her for being what she is and wish her well.
Vivienne Rowney, General Secretary – Country Women's Association of W.A. (Inc.)
Our guests found Priya totally inspirational. She radiates warmth and has the audience in the palm of her hand very quickly. Fantastic speaker.
Excellent speaker. Priya targeted her comments to the audience very well. Her speech was inspirational, humorous, moving, fantastic.
Dr, University of Notre Dame W.A.
Priya was fantastic. Everyone in the audience walked away feeling positive and inspired and could relate Priya’s message to their own lives.
Shelly, Bankwest
Absolutely fantastic! Set the mood for the conference. Very engaging and full of life, fun and energy. Excellent speaker.
Denyse, ACHPER W.A. State Conference