The third day of sporting action has taken place at the Arafura Games in Darwin, Australia ©Arafura Games

Australian Paralympic athlete Rosemary Little overcame the odds to break through for her first gold medal in women’s seated shot put at the Arafura Games.

It capped a year of hard work for the 36-year-old, who was diagnosed with a rare spinal tumour after she represented Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympics in wheelchair racing.

“I spent a year in hospital and rehab and couldn’t even feed myself for the first eight months,” said Little, who contracted a form of autoimmune encephalitis, causing idiopathic spastic quadriplegia and generalised dystonia, when she was 12.

“I was either going to die or be on a ventilator for the rest of my life.

“So, to be here at the Arafura Games in 2019 collecting this medal is simply amazing to me.”

The outlook for Little, who won bronze for wheelchair racing in the 2012 London Paralympic Games followed by silver and bronze medals in the 200m and 100m finals at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France, has been bleak these past five years.

Australia's Rio Paralympian Rosemary Little pictured, centre, with her gold medal for the seated shot put event at Arafura Games in Darwin, Australia ©Arafura Games
Australia's Rio Paralympian Rosemary Little pictured, centre, with her gold medal for the seated shot put event at Arafura Games in Darwin, Australia ©Arafura Games

She was admitted to hospital before the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar in 2015 began with a severe bout of pneumonia.

But Little, from West Pennant Hills, New South Wales, bounced back and trained daily so she would be fit enough to be selected to represent Australia for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

She competed in the 100m, 400m and 800m wheelchair racing before being struck down by another bout of pneumonia.

“I knew there was something wrong before and during Rio,” she told Arafura Games media.

“I had quite a bad start in the 100m and wasn’t performing that well.

It wasn’t until after Little returned to Australia and she suffered another bout of pneumonia that she realised just how ill she was.

“That’s when the doctors found the rare tumour in my spine.

“I couldn’t move – I couldn’t do anything.”

While many others would have given up, Little battled on and once out of hospital started rehab followed by a rigorous training regime to build up her fitness.

Even when her classification in wheelchair racing changed due to the doctor’s diagnosis, she refused to be defeated and simply switched to shot put.

“I’m tall, 6ft 2in, so I’m good at a lot of sports," she said.

"I’m also a firm believer in perseverance.

“My doctors say if I wasn’t so stubborn, I wouldn’t be here.

“The doctors’ predictions for most of my life haven’t been very positive but I’ve surpassed all their expectations and mine.”

Meanwhile newly-crowned Arafura Games 10,000m open running champion, Darwin’s own Abdurahman Roach, is so humble he doesn’t believe his own advertising.

The 17-year-old Ethiopian-born athlete was the face of the Arafura Games television ads, but being filmed getting down on starting blocks, he says, was a bit of television trickery.

“The ad lied,” he joked after Sunday’s gold medal presentation.

 “I’m not a sprinter, distance runners don’t use blocks.”

The Games is a unique, multi-sport event where athletes with a disability compete in the same programme as able-bodied athletes.

Competitors from around the world are taking part in the week-long Games held in Darwin, in Northern Territory.

This is the 13th edition of an event that launched in 1991 and which takes its name from the Arafura Sea, which lies between northern Australia and Southeast Asia.

The 2003 edition was cancelled following concerns over the SARS virus and the 2013 edition was cancelled by the newly-elected CLP Government on the grounds it cost too much to run.

This is the first edition since 2011.

Athletics, badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, boxing, football, indoor volleyball, muaythai, netball, sailing, swimming, sepak takraw, squash, table tennis, tennis and weightlifting are among the sports on the programme.