Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Newcastle native Lauren Parker. The 30-year-old paratriathlete kicked off 2019 in blazing form beating fellow Aussie and current five-time ITU world champion Emily Tapp (ACT) in the women’s PTWC class at the Newcastle OTU Paratriathlon Oceania Championships in February, as well as the Devonport ITU Paratriathlon World Cup a month later.
However, the promising start to the season suffered its first setback when the third-ranked women’s wheelchair competitor in the world underwent spinal surgery in April. Parker courageously battled back and took third in the Yokohama ITU Paratriathlon Series (WPS) just six weeks later.
With her road to recovery paved with gold intentions, the 2016 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist suffered her second setback in just her first race in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification period.
Less than a week out from WPS Montréal in June, Parker was back in the hospital, this time diagnosed with a painful ovarian cyst. Triathlon NSW spoke with Parker before her trip to Japan to compete in this weekend’s Tokyo ITU Paratriathlon World Cup.
“I was quite unwell that week leading into Montréal. I ended up in the hospital four days before the race, so I was lucky to even get to the start line,” explained Parker, who still managed to not only race but also claim a fourth-place result despite performing in severe pain.
“I was able to get some points toward my Paralympic selection, so I was happy with that,” she continued. “However, I wasn’t happy with fourth place, but I have to move on and focus on the Tokyo Test Event.”
While Parker admits she’s not quite yet at full strength, a podium result is still the focus, as well as continuing to grow toward her goal of Paralympic gold in 2020.
“I’m not at 100 per cent, but my training is going really well. My goal is obviously is to win Tokyo — that is always the goal. I just need to keep positive, and get over to Tokyo and focus on the race and see what I can do. It’s all a learning experience. I have a year to learn. A lot of work needs to be done between now and then, but I look forward to the journey.”
Parker’s infectious optimism is both remarkable and inspiring considering her young life was abruptly altered in the blink of an eye following a crippling collision with a guardrail two years ago.
The former swimmer and surf lifesaver’s elite triathlon career was tragically cut short when an early morning training ride ended in disaster after a crash at 45km/h left the then-28-year-old with broken ribs, a punctured lung, fractured scapula and pelvis, a broken back and severe spinal damage. After three months in the hospital and three months in rehab, Parker still has no feeling from the waist down and has been given just a one per cent chance of ever walking again.
“You just need to focus on the positives, even in negative situations,” shared Parker, who successfully made the transition to paratriathlon just nine months after the accident by placing second in the 2018 St. Kilda OUT Paratriathlon Oceania Championships.
“For me, I chose to never give up and not let negativity overcome me. I think that’s a mindset everyone needs to adopt — not just in sport, but life in general.”
Photo Pappigo Images