Australian para-cyclist on road to glory at Tokyo Paralympics

SYDNEY, July 16 (Xinhua) -- For Australian para-cyclist Grant Allen, the road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games has been long, full of twists and turns but never without a clear sense of direction.

Allen, 41, has been in love with cycling ever since getting his first push bike on his fifth birthday. He fondly recalls a childhood pedalling around the family farm in rural South Australia.

"It was something I was relatively good at, pushing limits doing things that people couldn't do, or wouldn't do," Allen told Xinhua.

After BMX racing throughout his teen years, Allen began to compete in mountain bike events across the globe in his 20s, with one of his crowning achievements being competing in the Red Bull Rampage in the Utah desert.

That life came to a catastrophic end in 2011 when Allen overshot a large jump and crashed, damaging his spinal cord and leaving him paralysed from the waist down.

"When I was first hurt, it was all a bit of a blur for a day or two. It's crazy as it isn't just that you can't walk any more. There are massive changes to your body. It's incredibly complex and you just don't know or understand until someone explains it to you or you have to live through it," said Allen.

Allen said the reality of the situation hit him as he lay in bed at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Center.

"Life as it was, was certainly no longer."

After five weeks of rehab, an undeterred Allen got right back in the saddle.

"When I realized I was going to be in a wheelchair, I was immediately thinking 'I just want to be the best version of myself that I can be'."

For Allen, the sport of handcycling seemed like a natural progression. Unlike traditional bicycles, hand cycles have two rear wheels and see the rider in a lying down position, the rider using their arms to pedal instead of their legs.

Allen began trying his hand at the sport, but it wasn't until after he watched the London 2012 Paralympics that he started getting serious.

"Seeing London was an eye-opening sort of thing. And, when Rio came around, I was well and truly competitive. It is really hard to get into the Australian Paralympic team, I was next in line to make the team for Rio but just missed out."

This time round Allen was able to secure a spot in the 12-person Australian para-cycling team, fulfilling his long-awaited dream.

"I was driving to work when I got the phone call, after so much waiting, it was really emotional and quite overwhelming," he said.

Working in a store that sells disability equipment in Adelaide, the father to two young kids has to keep a balance between the full-time work, family responsibilities and training.

At the peak of his training, Allen would wake up at 2am to train before work. One week he rode 1,000 kilometers over just five days.

At the beginning of August, Allen will head to Brisbane for a training camp, before flying to Tokyo for his Olympic debut. He is set to compete in two events, the men's time trial which lasts around 40 minutes, and the 100-minute road race.

"Time away from the kids is hard. The Games will be a long stretch not to see them and we will miss each other lots. We're lucky these days with things like video calls and so forth to help but it's still tough."

While Allen loves cycling because it gives him the chance to compete and push himself, he also hopes to inspire others the way he was inspired in the past.

"It's really important that people with a disability see others living active and fulfilling lives. I find it amazing seeing what people can do. The Paralympics tells such a great story."

Allen said his goal for his first Games is to at least bring home a medal for Australia, but one of the things he is looking forward to the most is his kids getting to watch him on TV.

"I will be extremely excited around the thought of them getting to watch their dad on the highest stage, doing what he does."

[ Editor: WPY ]