Australia’s Lauren Parker felt at the peak of her triathlon career in April 2017. After finishing second in the 2015 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, the 28-year-old was training 35 hours a week with a goal a podium at the Ironman Australia Triathlon in Port Macquarie. On an early morning ride a week before the race, she crashed into a guardrail while traveling about 45km/h, suffering broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken scapula, broken back and a broken pelvis; she has had no feeling from the waist down since the accident.
Doctors gave her a one per cent chance of walking again. Nine months after the accident, she has returned to a podium: Lauren finished second in the 2018 St. Kilda OUT Para Triathlon Oceania Championships held 14 January. Her goal is now set on the Commonwealth Games, and her second place in St. Kilda has placed her as one of the possible Aussies representing their country on this year’s Commonwealth Games, to be held in the Gold Coast in April.
“We are so excited to see the potential in our Aussie PTWC women, with Emily Tapp, Sarah Tait and now Lauren, as well as the rising talent around the world. It will be super racing in the next years,” said Kathryn Periac, Para Triathlon High-Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia.
Parker’s transition to adapted sport was one of the quickest International Triathlon Union (ITU) has on record, and was possible not only because of her unbreakable will and determination but also because she lives in Newcastle, where the multi-medallist in wheelchair marathon Kurt Fearnley lives, along with his coach Andrew Dawes and his Paralympic medallist wife Christie. They have been the ones helping Lauren in her quick transition to wheelchair sports with their expertise and coaching.
Parker, a highly committed professional athlete who loves triathlon, said no when, just a few months after her accident, Fearnley suggested she could do wheelchair marathons instead, but she was focused on going back to triathlon racing.
Parker is not the first elite triathlete who after an accident or illness adapted to Para triathlon. French’s Yannick Bourseaux needed a year for that transition, as he was combining Para triathlon with Para Nordic skiing at the same time and after his accident, while Spain’s Eva Maria Moral needed a bit more than a year to get used to the handbike and the thrill of Para triathlon competition after the accident that left her, also, in a wheelchair.
With the help of friends within the triathlon community, and the advice of her friend and former successful Ironman athlete Brad Fernley – who was training with her when the accident happened – she was able to start training again for Para triathlons, even before she was allowed to drive cars. Less than nine months after her accident, the big day came in St. Kilda, where she competed in the PTWC class and crossed the finish line in second place.