LAUREN Parker smiled wide when recounting her latest award win, the Sport NSW athlete of the year with a disability.
“I got one over Kurt,” Parker beamed when referring to wheelchair racing legend and sometimes training partner Kurt Fearnley. “He was a finalist in the last award.”
Parker was speaking at the scene of her latest honour, the announcement at Queens Wharf on Tuesday of the para-triathlon race which will be held in conjunction with the Sparke Helmore Triathlon on February 24.
The race, which will form part of the Oceania para-triathlon series, was established in Newcastle largely because of Parker’s recent success and started with a call to her and coach Brad Fernley from Triathlon Australia. She has even helped design the course – a 750-metre swim in Newcastle Harbour, a 20-kilometre cycle leg looping through King Edward Park and a 5km run, or wheelchair, section along Honeysuckle.
The hometown event for Parker has followed an amazing first year of para-triathlon competition for the 29-year-old, who was left paralysed from the waist down after a training accident in April last year. The Commonwealth Games and world championship medallist received the NSW Institute of Sport’s Ian Thorpe outstanding achievement award and the Sport NSW honour last month.
Triathlon Australia events and technical manager Lukas Matys said Parker was an inspirational figure.
“There’s a lot of support behind Lauren and she has become a massive motivation not only in triathlon but generally for any athletes,” Matys said.
Parker was honoured to have the race in Newcastle and she was keen to take on the responsibility of providing inspiration in the same vein as Fearnley.
“I hope to go down that same path that he’s started and continue it on,” Parker said. “Kurt's amazing. He’s so inspirational and I’m very lucky to have him in Newcastle helping me to be a better athlete on the track and just in general having him there. He’s so positive.
“It’s nice to know that I’m making a difference in people’s lives and for the sport.
“The race being here and for the community to see para-triathlon is really good for the sport and it will help people start in the sport. It’s such a great little community to be a part of.”
She said triathlon had played a “very important” part in her life.
“After going through such a tragic accident I had every reason to not continue on, or not be positive, but to be recognised in the sport that I love and to be competing so well, it’s been important for myself mentally,” she said.
“And I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved.”
“I wouldn’t have even thought I’d be back racing that soon, let alone winning a couple of titles overseas, Commonwealth Games and world champs. It’s been a busy year and a great year for my sport.
“It’s an honour to have my achievements recognised by NSW Sport and NSWIS, it feels good. And for the race to be here because this is my hometown also is an honour and I just hope the race goes really well and it brings lots of people in from the community into see the paratriathlon.”
Parker designed the course with next year’s world championships in Switzerland in mind.
“I made the bike as challenging as I could,” she said. “I wanted to go all the way up King Edward Park, but [race organiser] Paul [Humphreys] said maybe just halfway. And I made the run as fast as I could, to keep it to my advantage.
“It’s important next year because all the races help me qualify for the Paralympics in 2020.
“From this race right through to the end of the year, I’ve got to be right with race fitness and be race ready all the time.”
Matys said the Newcastle event would be “one of the most spectacular courses” in the series and he hoped to make it a long-term venue.
“We are coming into the Olympic cycle for Tokyo 2020 and athletes need to gain points to race in the para world series events,” he said.
“This event in the Oceania championships gives them lots of points to race in the further events.
“If we have the event here in 2020 as well, those points will count directly towards qualifying for the Olympics.
”All the best Australians will be here and I will be expecting some from overseas hunting for points as well.”