Lauren Parker experienced “mixed emotions” after producing a bronze-medal performance at her first world titles on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
The gritty and determined effort came six-and-a-half weeks after the Newcastle paratriathlete had emergency surgery to drain fluid from her spinal cord.
Parker had had a sudden loss of feeling down her right arm and torso and did not know if racing would be an option as she recovered from the operation. It put her out of action for three-and-a-half weeks and she was still experiencing a loss of sensation post-surgery and felt noticeably weaker in her right arm and hand.
The Novocastrian had been eyeing a world title before the setback but lined up for the women’s wheelchair race at the International Triathlon Union championships on Saturday wondering if she would finish.
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Parker not only finished, she finished on the podium, three minutes and 46 seconds behind fellow Australian and world champion Emily Tapp.
Tapp won in one hour, eight minutes and 57 seconds. Japan’s Wakako Tsuchido was second in 1:09.50 and Parker third in 1:12.43.
“I was really happy with third but I was also thinking, ‘Far out, what could I have done with a good preparation?’,” Parker told The Newcastle Herald on Saturday.
“But things happen and I’m really happy with third and I know I’ve got better races to come.”
To be able to compete was momentous for the Novocastrian, who inspired a nation in April by securing bronze at the Commonwealth Games less than 12 months after being paralysed from the waist down in a training accident.
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“It was a tough race; I just didn’t have what I normally have on the bike to get a lead that I normally get,” Parker said. “But that’s alright. I’ve had a bad preparation and I was just happy to be here racing and really happy to get a bronze medal.”
I one hundred per cent believe that gold in Tokyo is a possibility.Lauren Parker
Getting to the finish line was as much a mental battle as a physical one for the ultra competitive Parker.
“In the swim and bike I didn’t feel as good as I normally do and I was having girls ahead of me on the bike that aren’t normally there,” she said.
“So I had to change my mindset and keep saying to myself, ‘I’m underprepared and I’ve dealt with a lot over the last few weeks’.
“I just wasn’t putting pressure on myself. I had to keep telling myself it’s OK, even though I wanted the gold.”
That is, however, the medal Parker is gunning for at the 2020 Paralympics and her focus is now on qualification.
“I one hundred per cent believe that gold in Tokyo is a possibility. I’ve got two years to train for it between now and then so I’ll get heaps better,” Parker said.