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.