They have come from all walks of life and overcome amazing hurdles to reach the top of their sport and today the official announcement of our Australian team.
The Australian Paralympic Committee has put the icing on its 2016 Rio team with the announcement of its first ever paratriathletes.
A six-strong team of three men and three women plus one guide will create history when the sport makes its debut.
Men: Bill Chaffey (QLD) PT1, Nic Beveridge (ACT) PT1, Brant Garvey (WA) PT2
Women: Katie Kelly (ACT) Michellie Jones (QLD) guide; PT5, Kate Doughty (VIC) PT4 and Claire McLean (WA) PT4.
The seventh member of the team – who adds her own slice of Olympic history to the story, is triathlon’s celebrated Olympic silver medallist from Sydney 2000 and ITU and Ironman world champion, Michellie Jones who will act as the Guide for vision-impaired paratriathlete Katie Kelly.
Kelly, who grew up on the NSW North Coast where she raced triple Olympic gold medallist Petria Thomas as a youngster, has Ushers Syndrome – a degenerative disease that causes blindness and hearing loss.
“I moved on to Sydney and started running in races like the City to Surf but then a trip to my ophthalmologist confirmed Ushers Syndrome but that just spurred me on – time was of the essence and I had to make the most of it,” Kelly said.
“Triathlon beckoned and nothing was going to stop me matching it with my peers and coach Corey Bacon in Canberra put me through my paces and followed me around like a hawk testing me.
“Eventually he said he wanted to find a world class guide for a world class athlete and said ‘I don’t know that I agreed with him about that part’ but then a week later he told me that Michellie would be my guide – I couldn’t believe it."
Jones won her silver medal when the sport of triathlon debuted at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in and around Sydney Harbour and the pair won the PT5 ITU World Championship in Chicago last year.
Now 16 years later Jones is again involved in another landmark event for her sport saying she was excited to be a member of the Australian Paralympic Team.
“Having the opportunity to act as the Guide for Katie Kelly in the first ever paratriathlon event is not only historic but also humbling and inspirational,” said Jones, who at 46, recently chalked up her 11th victory in her hometown Carlsbad Sprint Distance Triathlon.
“They all have amazing stories and have overcome many obstacles and I’m truly blessed to be a part of the journey;
"Of course a huge thanks to coach Corey Bacon's vision to partner me with Katie Kelly - it has been a awesome journey so far and Rio is just icing on the cake.
"I am excited to help Katie achieve her Olympic aspirations and my goal on race day is to ensure Katie has the best day possible on Sept 11."
The team has had a meteoric rise in a sport that has certainly captured the imagination of the triathlon world and is now sure to capture the imagination of world of sports when it makes its debut in Rio.
All bar WA’s Claire McLean, who has left for a pre-Games training camp in the US and Jones, who is based in Carlsbad, California, were on the Gold Coast today when the team was officially announced at Coolangatta Surf Club.
Chaffey, at 40, isn’t the oldest on the team – that honour goes to a 2004 Paralympic cycling silver medallist in McLean, at 43, who also won the 2006 Para Road Cycling world championship.
For McLean it has been a topsy turvey Paralympic career since winning silver in the women’s cycling time trial in Athens in 2004.
She suffered the heartbreak of missing the cycling teams in 2008 and 2012 through the often complicated and frustrating selection and appeals processes that can make or break athletes.
For McLean it has no doubt made her stronger, as the 43-year-old Legal Advisor to Perth’s City of Belmont switched to paratriathlon post 2012 with the same dedication and determination that is synonymous with Paralympians and drove her to her greatest triumphs and to become the 2006 Para Cycling world road race champion.
On her setbacks she says, “It was tough not to go to Beijing and to miss London but to me it has never been about the end destination but the day-in day-out journey and becoming a better person . . . to be faster, fitter and stronger.”
And while cycling has been her obvious strength and running coming in second, swimming with a paralysed arm has not meant an easy transition.
The team will be spearheaded by one of the most successful paratriathletes on the ITU circuit, the Tweed Heads/Gold Coast five-time ITU world champion Chaffey, who was run down by a truck whilst training for the Hawaii Ironman in 2005.
Chaffey, the poster boy of the sport in the lead up to Rio said: “For me after winning the ITU World Championship last year and securing a spot for Australia was the first box ticked, but I knew I had to keep pushing and kept thinking nothing else but the green and gold all the way to that final announcement.
“It drove me on every day, but I wasn’t going to get really excited until it all became official.
“I kept pushing myself to be the best, that comes naturally to me. My age (at 40) is no barrier but I do get a few extra aches and pains but they don’t last long. It has been a long haul but one I would not swap for the world.”
He will be joined in the PT1 Class by fellow wheelchair athlete, Queenslander, Nic Beveridge, who was struck down by a sudden and debilitating trans¬verse myelitis virus in 2003 that has left him a paraplegic.
He was a fit, hard-working student and budding water polo player who has turned his sporting prowess to paratriathlon.
Beveridge said: “I began training for paratriathlons in 2013 because I felt compelled to get started in the sport.
“My goal has always been to find out how far I can go with it and the extent to which I can develop.
“I liked to think that would involve representing Australia at some point, but was not something I expected.
“Being selected for a Paralympic Games is an opportunity I will make the most of, and look forward to doing so alongside my friends and team mates that I have shared the last few years with.”
His team mates Kate Doughty and Brant Garvey had excelled in other sports.
Doughty had her sights set on representing Australia in Para Equestrian until her mother died suddenly of cancer and she knew then she had to try other things in her life and “smell the roses” and inside two years has barnstormed her way to Rio in paratriathlon.
Doughty said she had ridden horses from around eight years of age and it was her goal to go to the Paralympics in equestrian.
“That was a path I endured for over 20 years but it was the loss of my mum to cancer very quickly that made me realise there were other things I wanted to try in life and that meant I had to close the door on the equestrian world to give myself the opportunity to allow new doors to open.
“That’s when I tried triathlon and fell in love with it; to be going to Rio in paratriathlon after just two years in that sport is just phenomenal.”
The second Western Australian on the team, Garvey too was a talented sportsman, inspired by Kieren Perkins feats of 1996 in Atlanta and who eventually became a champion wheelchair basketballer who quickly turned his life around when paratriathlon was added to the Rio program.
“It’s been a lifelong dream and I’m in the final metres of this race.”
Bill Chaffey (QLD) PT1
Nic Beveridge (ACT PT1
Brant Garvey (WA) PT2
Katie Kelly (ACT) and Michellie Jones (QLD) guide PT5
Kate Doughty (VIC) PT4
Claire McLean (WA)PT4
Team Leader: Kathryn Periac
Assistant Leader/Coach: Craig Redman
Coach: Corey Bacon
Mechanic: Michael Brice
Handler: Darren Tattersall