In life as in sport, Zac Sheehan faces every delivery with grace and optimism.
Zac Sheehan swings his cricket bat, with a smile as wide as the QEO wicket. Sure, there’s a camera pointed at him, but you sense the smile is a permanent fixture any time Zac has a cricket bat in his hands.
His optimism is contagious and as I ask him about the upcoming Ashes series, where he will take the field with the Australian blind cricket team, there’s plenty more laughter.
It’s an attitude that has seen him achieve a lot in just 18 years.
“People often ask how I do these things, and I say it’s about not letting my lack of vision get in the way. I love cricket, and I want to stay fit and keep playing it well into my 50s if I can.”
Anyone who knows Zac will agree; he tells it like it is. When I ask him about Retina Dystrophy, the condition that took his sight at six months of age, he puts it in language I can understand.
“Dodgy connections at the back of the brain,” is how he puts it.
“Up until the age of eight I had a bit of peripheral vision – could see some colours. These days I just see light and shadow. I can tell night from day, but that’s about it.”
Zac has never let his lack of vision stand in the way of his “vision”, and particularly his love of sport. From the age of seven he began following his older brother to footy training; running around with the boys.
“Sport has always been a given for me,” he says. “My dad and my pop both played cricket, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood.”
Zac travels to Melbourne every weekend to play for St Pauls in the Victorian Blind Cricket Association and (at the time of writing) is also training with the National Squad in preparation for the Ashes series in Adelaide.
“I went to my first training clinic when I was 14, and a year later was playing against adults,” he says. “At 15 I was playing against guys as old as 40. I remember facing one pace bowler who was sending them down at about 90 ks an hour. I’m sure that helped fast track my skills.
“I also play a sport called Swish, which is kind of like table tennis, but with a board instead of a net, and sides on the table. It’s a fast paced game and good for the reflexes… I’m sure it helps my cricket as well.”
School has naturally presented more challenges for Zac than most of his peers, but with the help of assistive technologies such as Jaws (a screen reader application) and electronic braille devices, he completed Year 12 in 2015 and now has his heart set on a career in sports management.
“The environment at BSSC really worked for me,” he says. “The staff at the college treat you like and adult and put a lot of trust in you. You realise very quickly that you need to be self-reliant and take control of your studies.
“I had an aide with me in most classes, and my teachers were great. Simon Wood, my English teacher, supported me every step of the way, and Paul Seery was a great PE teacher. The prac sessions were often really challenging, but my classmates were amazing and always stepped in when I needed a hand.”
When I ask Zac the highlight of his two years at the college, it’s not being named BSSC Sports Star of the Year, or even BSSC’s success in the State Cricket Titles; though they both come close.
“Definitely the day the BSSC footy team played a curtain raiser at the MCG before the Carlton/Collingwood game.
“I love footy with a passion. My pop bought me my first Essendon membership ticket when I was five. So to be in the rooms at the G before and after the game was magic.
“Walking down the race – sitting on the bench during the game – it was easy to imagine what it would be like to be an AFL coach. I was able to soak up all the atmosphere; hear the reactions and interactions of the players on the field.
“Even though the boys lost, everyone was just so rapt to be there. Not too many 17-year olds from the bush get to run around on the G.”
Zac’s enthusiasm for sport and life is inspiring. His college Facebook posts have been known to reach thousands, and his ability to relate to people from all tiers of the community is a trait that has already won him loyal fans.
Some say his approach to life and sport is not unlike another famous BSSC Alumni – former Australian Test Captain Bill Woodfull OBE. That’s fine company indeed.