Journey to the Paralympics

Caitilin Punshon
Stuart Tripp was in a car accident in 1994. No one thought he would survive. He had many operations and part of his leg removed. It was a difficult time for Stuart. A friend introduced him to handcycling. This kind of cycling uses the hands instead of the legs to turn the pedals. Stuart really enjoyed the freedom handcycling gave him. He has already represented Australia in international competitions. Now he is going to race in two events at the Paralympic Games in London. Whatever the outcome of those races, Stuart has had an amazing journey.
Posted by: 
Caitilin Punshon on 30/08/2012
Stuart Tripp handcycling on a street.
Stuart Tripp 2012 Paralympian

"I love racing", says Stuart.

When Stuart Tripp got into a friend's car one night in 1994, he didn't know he was beginning a journey that would take him all the way to the Paralympic Games. At the time, Stuart was 24 and working on a construction project in far north eastern Victoria. He says he can't and doesn't want to remember exactly what happened that night. He wasn't drunk and he wasn't speeding. But somehow the car he was driving ended up crushed against a tree with Stuart crushed inside it. It was many hours before emergency services arrived on the scene. When at last they did, no one thought he would survive.

Beginning the journey

Stuart doesn't spend much time looking back at what happened. He doesn't dwell on the multiple operations, the months spent in hospital or the eventual amputation of the lower part of his right leg.

I don't think about it, he says. It just is.

His physical rehabilitation was slow and painful. But a harder emotional journey was to come. In the years following his accident, Stuart experienced denial and depression.

It was terrible. It was a very hard time for me. At the same time I recognised that it was actually important to go through that bad time. It was part of the process of adjustment.

Family and friends provided vital support. And writing helped free Stuart from the thoughts circling endlessly in his head. He has written a book and a blog about his experiences. In time, he did adjust. He also found a new kind of escape that set him on an entirely different journey.

The joy of handcycling

In late 2003, Stuart was introduced to handcycling by a friend. Handcycles are specially designed bikes. They require upper body strength, and hands instead of legs to turn the pedals. Stuart discovered he loved handcycling. He describes feeling an unbelievable sense of movement and freedom when I rode the bike. Just like kids do. Often kids ride their bikes just for fun. But Stuart has excelled at this activity at an elite level.

Perhaps it was his determination. Maybe it was his stubbornness or the joy of being mobile. Most likely the desire to challenge his circumstances and be challenged in return caused Stuart to begin his racing career.

He has already represented Australia in international competitions with impressive results. The  races in the London Paralympics, however, are the most important he has faced. His enthusiasm for the contest is obvious.

I love racing, he says. The Paralympics are the pinnacle of racing for handcycling. I'm excited but don't get me wrong. It is a really tough field and course. It wouldn't be the Paralympics if it wasn't.

Racing to win

On 5 September 2012, Stuart will take to the track in his first Paralympics event. This is the H4 class handcycling time trial. Two days later, he will compete in the H4 handcycling road race. He is both positive and realistic about the outcome.

I have as much chance as any other person on the day of getting gold, or coming last. I'll be happy not to come last. I'm in the best form of my career. I've had the best season of my career so far, so who knows?

Whatever happens in those races, Stuart has already travelled a long way and achieved a great deal. He insists that it is the journey itself that is important, not the finish line.

But make no mistake. Stuart Tripp is racing to win.

Readers comments (2)

Hey Stuart,
My name is Matt, I am from Holmesglen Vocational college Located in Moorabbin. My class has been studying disabilities over the past 3 weeks. We have looked at all sorts of different disabilities which lead me to look on I read your article and I was very interested because of the success you have made and how far you have come since your accident.

First of all I would like to congratulate you for making it to the Paralympics. It's such a great achievement which requires a lot of skill, Persistence and dedication to your sport. It must have been a very tough journey physically and more so mentally. I am looking to get into the construction industry myself. I can not imagine the changes you have had to make in your life due to the impact of the accident.

I think it's fantastic the way you have bounced back. I think hand cycling looks like a very physically challenging sport. I don't know how long the tracks are but to me cycling my whole body weight with my arms would be a very hard thing to do and would take me a long time to be able to train my arms well enough to do it consistently.

Something else that really interested me about the article was when you said it was important to go through a bad time because it was part of the process of adjustment that your mind had to go through. I think that is a very true statement that a lot of people can relate to.

Thank you for the article, I found it very interesting and I would like to once again congratulate you for staying strong and making it to the Paralympics which is a very great achievement and amazing life experience.

For those of you wanting to know how Stuart went in London, I'm delighted to report that he rode a personal best time in the time trial, finishing in ninth position. He led for much of the road race and crossed the line in eighth place, a mere 3.5 seconds behind the winner. Although initially discontent with these results, Stuart now views his achievements at the London Paralympics with pride. He has every right to do so, and is already looking ahead to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Well done, Stu!

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