Very few athletes recover enough from serious injury to compete again at the same level, but Lauren Parker is one of those few.
Having been a successful triathlete, coming second in the gruelling 2015 Ironman World Championships, her career crumbled in one five-second moment in 2017.
“That year I had no injuries, I was in perfect form,” says the Novocastrian. “And two weeks out from my next race, the tyres burst on my bike – I went flying.” It was a freak accident that left Lauren with broken ribs, a punctured lung, broken back and pelvis, and a damaged spinal cord. She was instantly paralysed from the waist down. “I remember lying on the ground, trying to feel my legs and I felt nothing. It was devastating.”
While, for most people, being diagnosed as a paraplegic with between zero and one per cent chance of ever walking again might put an end to any sporting goals, Lauren would be back competing nine months later. This time, as a para-athlete.
With help from the Challenged Athletes Foundation in the US, Lauren once again found motivation.
“When I got [to the institute] there, I saw people in chairs or without legs who were happy. And I thought, if all these people who are worse off than me can be happy, then so can I,” she explains. First she had to learn how to ride a new bike and swim without the help of her legs and lower torso, but she took to it quickly.
Over the past 12 months alone, the 30-year-old has won bronze at the Commonwealth Games and gold at the 2018 World Cup (among other accolades). She was also awarded the Ian Thorpe OAM Outstanding Achievement Award and named the 2018 Sport NSW Athlete of the Year with a Disability. Now her eyes are firmly set on the 2020 Olympics.
Her Best Advice: “There is usually a way to overcome any obstacle in your life – trust me. You just have to have the mentality of never giving up.”