While the postponement of the Tokyo Paralympics was disappointing for paratriathlete Lauren Parker, her focus is on being fitter, faster and stronger for 2021.
Refocus and adapt. That’s how Australian paratriathlete Lauren Parker has dealt with the postponement of the Tokyo Games, which would have been her first Paralympics.
“Initially when I heard the games were postponed, obviously, I was quite disappointed. Because I’d prepared my body physically to be ready for this year. I started the year off with a couple of wins and I had all my focus on Tokyo,” Parker told Siren.
“But [after] a few days of being unmotivated, I soon got out of that and refocused on 2021.
“I just found the positives in a negative situation and I thought with another year up my sleeve, I can be better, fitter, stronger and faster for 2021. So, this gives me an opportunity to do that.”
Not content to just be stronger and faster, Parker is using the extra year to try and qualify for hand cycling. If she qualifies, that will bring her event tally to three.
“The hand cycle [is] my strongest leg, I really enjoy it. And I think I’ll be competitive in the field.
“So hopefully I’ll have three events at Tokyo 2021: the paratriathlon, the time trial hand cycle and the road race hand cycle.”
It’s a lot to have on her plate, but the 31-year-old has never shied away from a challenge.
Sport provides that mental strength
Parker had been racing triathlons for a decade before the accident that left her a paraplegic. She began racing Ironman in 2014, and earned a second place at the Kona Ironman World Championships before turning pro in 2016. Then, while on a training ride in preparation for Ironman Australia both of Parker’s tyres blew. The accident left her with several severe injuries. Parker credits her decade of training and competing as helping her navigate the challenges she faced after the accident.
“Being an athlete before my accident and having sport in my life definitely saved me. After my accident, if I didn’t have sport in my life, I don’t know what I’d be doing to be honest. So I’m very lucky that I had that.
“And, you know, doing sport all my life and growing up as an athlete, I think has given me that mental strength to overcome obstacles. During my able-bodied triathlon career, I had many injuries. I had eight stress fractures and broken bones and other crashes that I had and I always had to overcome an obstacle somewhere along the road.”
Despite the challenges, sport has long been a love of Parker’s. While she credits it with helping her recover from her accident, it means so much more.
“I love being fit, I love the endurance aspect of sport. I love the challenge and I love pushing myself to the limit in everything that I do and I love racing. I’m very competitive. And, you know, I love setting goals and doing everything I can to achieve those goals.
“I also love the camaraderie that you have in sport, between athletes. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years all around the world. It’s given me great opportunities. It’s helped me grow mentally and physically and not just in sport but in life itself as well.”
Commonwealth Games a surreal experience
Today, Parker is one of Australia’s most promising athletes and it’s not hard to see why. Only twelve months after her accident, she won a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. An experience she describes as surreal.
“I couldn’t even believe it really, you know.”
“When I was in hospital, I didn’t think that I’d ever get back to doing triathlon, let alone competing for my country. So, it was a very special moment.”
And there’s been plenty more wins since with Parker winning a spot on the podium in just about every race she’s entered since she returned to competition in 2018.
“I’m the strongest I’ve ever been”
Paratriathlon is a tough event, involving a 750 metre swim, a 20km cycle and a 5km race. Parker trains up to 25 hours a week, essentially preparing for three different disciplines.
“Every day is different. On a Monday, I start off with a bike session [for] a couple of hours. Then I have a break. Then I’ll do a midday session, normally a swim. And then in the late afternoon, a gym session or another bike session. So that’s on a Monday. And then Tuesday, I’ve got a run session and a swim session. So it just depends on what day it is. But I can train up to six hours a day, some days”
While Parker could be forgiven for taking a break from such an intense schedule after the news of the postponement of Tokyo, she did exactly the opposite.
“I just kept going as I would normally, training hard and my training’s better than ever really. I got a PB in a race chair the other day and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been on the hand cycle.
“Not having any races at the moment, really, for me, doesn’t change anything. I don’t need a race to be motivated or to have that goal to keep training. I just know that I’ve got that race in 2021 that I’m all focused for.”
While the impact of COVID-19 reverberates around the world, for Parker the effect hasn’t been too significant.
“It didn’t really impact my training at all, apart from swimming because all the pools were closed. So, there were a couple of months where I didn’t swim. But I kept training hard on the bike and the run. And now that the pools are back open, I’ve been able to get some hard sessions back in the pool and I’m feeling really great at the moment.”
Funding boost welcome news
While the postponement of Tokyo was disappointing for Parker, it was tempered somewhat by the news that Triathlon Australia has received an extra $182,868 in funding for paratriathlon.
“It’s so good for the sport and it will allow extra funding to go to the athletes to support them towards their goals for Tokyo. It’ll help with equipment funding for athletes that need new equipment for Tokyo [and] also allow more support at camps, which are super important because camps really bring the team together and you can focus on knuckling down in training with the best coaches on board.
“It also helps in other areas like support staff and nutrition and athlete wellbeing as well. So, it’s really exciting for the sport.”
The funding is welcome news, particularly for those needing new equipment which can be incredibly expensive. Earlier this year, Parker paid $27,000 for a new hand cycle and $8500 for a new racing chair.
“It’s super expensive. With the racing chair, I actually need to update that every year. Because it has to fit your body really snug. And my body is changing all the time and I need it to be perfect for the games.
“So even though I’ve gotten a new racing chair this year, I will need one next year and it’s super exciting that I might be able to get a little bit of help, funding for that. And also, the other athletes that need their equipment as well.
Focus on Tokyo
While gold at Tokyo next year is at the top of Parker list of goals, she has plenty more that she wants to achieve.
“Definitely the big goal is [to] get that gold medal in the paratriathlon at the games, but you know, I hope to bring home three gold medals now that I’m trying to qualify for the handcycling so that is the goal, to bring home those three gold medals.
“Then… after the games I’m hoping to race the Kona Ironman World Championship, six weeks after Tokyo and complete the course in a record time. My heart is all for Ironman racing. Because that’s what I was doing before my accident and I can’t wait to get back to Kona and achieve Kona on a hand cycle and a racing chair. I’ve got to use my arms for everything so it’ll be a big challenge. But I’m looking forward to that as well.
“And then I have goals up to 2028. Like 2024 I want to get to Paris and race the paratriathlon there and then hopefully the games after that. So I’ve got big goals set but just one at a time I’m focusing on.”