The remarkable exploits of Newcastle paratriathlete Lauren Parker has earned her a nomination for this year’s Sport Australia Hall of Fame “The Don Award” to be announced at Australian sports “Night of Night’s” in Melbourne on October 11.
The distinguished Award is based on an athletes achievements and example over the last 12 months and is considered to have had the capacity to most inspire the nation.
winner, along with the Hall of Famers and the 40th Legend of Australian Sport will be celebrated at the "34th Induction & Awards Gala Dinner" at the Palladium at Crown.
With just nine days to go until Australian sport’s night of nights the field for the prestigious award has been unveiled, revealing a star-studded list of Australian sporting champions whose achievements have most ‘inspired the nation’.
Parker joins what is a who’s who of Australian sport with F1 star Daniel Ricciardo and Indianapolis 500 victor Will Power, the Matilda’s international goalscoring machine Sam Kerr, and record-breaking cricketer Ellyse Perry as well as Australian Commonwealth Games gold medallists Kurt Fearnley AO and Madison de Rozario (athletics wheelchair racing) and outgoing Kookaburras hockey captain Mark Knowles OAM.
For 29-year-old Parker, her story was always set to inspire the nation – from the moment she re-launched her amazing new career.
The former Ironman triathlete has been confined to a wheelchair after a horrific and freakish bike riding accident in April 2017, as she prepared for another tilt at the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in Kona, where she was second in her age group in 2015.
It was an accident that crushed her career and changed her life forever.
Parker’s accident left her without any feeling from the waist down after she crashed into a guardrail while travelling about 45km/h during a training session near Raymond Terrace – after puncturing both her tyres.
She sustained broken ribs, a punctured lung, broken scapula, broken pelvis and a broken back with only a one per cent chance of walking again.
But on January 18 this year, just nine months later and after months of rehabilitation, heartache and training, Parker pushed and puffed her handcycle and racing wheelchair for 28 kilometres around the streets of Melbourne’s St Kilda Beach.
It was a “sporting re-incarnation” – from an elite triathlete to one of the most inspirational sporting feats of 2018 as she finished second to Sara Tait in the Paratriathlon Continental Championships run as part of race three of the six-race Triathlon Victoria 2XU Triathlon Series.
It was her only chance to win Commonwealth Games selection - as a paratriathlete.
Not only did Parker overcome her mental and physical anguish to kick-start her new career and make the Games team for the April Games, where she won the bronze medal behind Australia’s Emily Tapp and went on to win a second bronze to Tapp in the September World Championships, also on the Gold Coast.
For Parker, the prospect of turning her once blossoming Ironman triathlon career in paratriathlon has given her a new lease of life.
“I’ve only been on the racing chair for six weeks and the hand cycle and to be able to complete (my first) race in an ok time I was really happy,” an emotional Parker, said at the time as over 20 members of her support team swamped her on that start to what has been a challenging new career.
“I’m back doing what I love and that’s racing and I’m so excited to be back racing so soon after my accident; it’s hard to believe, I can’t describe it.
“With regards to the Commonwealth Games I’m hoping it all works out and I do qualify; it would be really exciting if I did with lots of hard work between now and then.”
Parker said she is now absolutely blown away to be nominated for The Don Award, especially in its 20th year.
“Many of the awards recipients have inspired me to keep pushing myself in sport way beyond what I believed were my physical and mental limits,” said Parker.
“I am so honoured to even be mentioned alongside the likes of Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe, Cadel Evans, Jeff Horn and Sally Pearson.
“As an athlete I set out each day to test my abilities, both at training and in competition. I am humbled that my personal goals and commitment to my sport have been recognized as something worthwhile by others.
“It’s only been 20 months since my accident and to have the effect that I’ve had on the Nation and the community around me I am so proud ... giving me happiness and being able to inspire them in their own journeys with my sporting journey. I would never be able to achieve what I have achieved over the last two years.
“When I found out I was a nominee I was so overwhelmed; it’s such a great honour to be nominated for such a prestigious award and alongside the past nominees – it’s been a tough 20 months and I’ve achieved so much more than I would ever thought possible so I’m very proud for the past few months especially.
“To be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Donald Bradman – the greatest batsman of all time is definitely an honour and something I will always remember, and I never would have thought so soon after my accident that I would be named as a nominee for the Don award.
“All I want to do is inspire people and the youth of Australia with my story and my journey being able bodied to being a paratriathlete on the road to Tokyo … that’s all I’d like to do is to inspire others.”
Parker said she could not have made the transformation from triathlete to paratriathlete without the team of family, friends and coaches around her.
“I’ve got a fantastic team from my coaches Dan Atkins and Andrew Dawes; Martin Boyd from In Motion Sports Clinic and a big shot out to Brad Fernley, I couldn’t have done it without Brad (who has been there for me every day),” said Parker.
“They’re all part of an amazing team around me and my friends and family? Without them I would not be where I am now ... it’s as much their nomination as it is mine.”
And then there’s (Paralympic legend) Kurt Fearnley?
“I’m so lucky to have Kurt Fearnley in my home town Newcastle and to train alongside him … he is so inspirational, and he has helped me so much in the racing chair ... at the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships. I’ve learnt so much from him in terms of technique in the racing chair and getting better as an athlete, so I’m blessed to get the opportunities to train alongside him.
“The Australian public and the community around me have been so supportive. It’s been amazing to inspire others and to hear other people’s stories. How I have helped them overcome their own journeys … it has definitely given me happiness to know that I’ve made some difference in the community. I’ll keep sharing my story and keep inspiring others.
“And without triathlon I would not be here doing what I am doing, it has saved me since my accident, I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years it’s a part of me, the transition from elite triathlete to a paratriathlete in a way is the easiest part of what I’ve had to deal with, coming back to the sport that I love.
“I’m really looking forward to doing paratriathlon for as along as I can; it would be absolutely amazing to make the Paralympic team for Tokyo and would top off everything I’ve had to go through … in order to get there … 2020 is my goal for the next two years and on top of everything I’ve had to go through to get there.
“I’m looking forward to the journey and qualifying for Tokyo.”