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Lauren Parker Continues Her Inspirational Journey: Next Stop Cozumel

Lauren Parker Continues Her Inspirational Journey: Next Stop Cozumel

Australians may have only first heard of the Lauren Parker story on January 14 of 2018, just seven months after a horrific accident crushed the dreams of this aspiring triathlete.

Parker had arrived onto St Kilda Beach, greeted by Triathlon Australia officials, who already knew there was something special about this girl from Newcastle who had now set herself the goal to make the Australian Commonwealth Games Team for para triathlon.

She was about to re-incarnate one of the great inspirational stories in a country with so many amazing comebacks in the world of sport.

Parker’s accident left her without any feeling from the waist down after she crashed into a guard rail while cycling 45km/h during a routine training session. 

Her injuries were crushing and along with it her life as she knew it; she would never walk again; and her dreams and her goal to win Kona – the world’s toughest Ironman triathlon seemed insurmountable.

Kona dominated her thoughts that fateful day as she prepared to join thousands of qualifiers from around the world, training for another tilt at the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, where she was second in her age group in 2015.

But St Kilda was just the start of this inspirational ‘sporting re-incarnation' – from an elite triathlete to one of the most inspirational Australian sporting careers.

Lauren Parker’s story was about to unfold and inspire the nation – in St Kilda and every day since as she now prepares for this Sunday’s IRONMAN 70.3 in Cozumel, Mexico.

Cozumel comes just one week after completing the hardest race day of her life – racing for almost eight hours to finish the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Utah, after suffering third degree burns to her toes and surviving a terrifying car accident – in a week from hell before the race.

On the road with her carer and training partner, former surf ironman-turned-triathlete Brad Fernley, Lauren is ready to race another day – that’s the thing that’s driving her and keeping her inspired.

But it’s Lauren that continues to inspire those around her. From St Kilda, Gold Coast to Tokyo, and Utah to Cozumel, her support crew keeps on growing.


As St Kilda awoke that busy Sunday morning three-and-half years ago, Parker pushed her wheelchair along the backstreets towards the beach, her enthusiastic entourage gathering around to support this determined 28-year-old.

She had set herself up for the Para triathlon Continental Championships as part of the 2XU Triathlon Series in Victoria - and had to borrow a handcycle.
Race organisers then cancelled the swim because of poor water quality – turning the race from a triathlon into a duathlon (run-bike-run) and the inspirational band of para triathletes – world beaters and newcomers - pursued the course with just as much gusto.

Parker was amongst them, relying on Fernley to transfer her from chair to chair – tasks he has carried out every day since – that’s what friends are for he says.
After days and nights of mental and physical anguish, of flooding tears and months of rehabilitation, heartache and training, Parker pushed her borrowed handcycle and racing wheelchair for 28 kilometres around the streets of Melbourne’s St Kilda beach in her one and only chance to win Commonwealth Games selection - as a para-triathlete.

She was second across the line that day behind Gold Coaster Sara Tait and enough to earn her a discretionary nomination that saw Tait and Parker join ITU World Champion Emily Tapp in a three-strong Australian team when para triathlon made its Commonwealth Games debut.

For Parker, the prospect of turning her once blossoming Ironman triathlon career in, para triathlon had given her a new lease on life.

“I’ve only been on the racing chair for six weeks and the hand cycle and to be able to complete (my first) race in an okay time I was really happy,” an emotional Parker, said at the time as over 20 members of her support team swamped her on that start to what has been a “challenging new career,” she said at the time.
“I’m back doing what I love and that’s racing and I’m so excited to be back racing so soon after my accident; it’s hard to believe, I can’t describe it.
“With regards to the Commonwealth Games I’m hoping it all works out and I do qualify; it would be really exciting if I did with lots of hard work between now and then.”
And she was quick to praise her support staff, coaches, fellow Novocastrian and Paralympic wheelchair legend Kurt Fearnley and her long-time training partner, carer and handler, Fernley.
“If it wasn’t for everyone around me; it’s like a team; it’s not just me; I wouldn’t be here without their support and the team; they got me to the finish line basically,” said Parker.
“Just training with Kurt under his renowned coach Andrew Dawes has been amazing, they are so supportive; I’ve had some good sessions with them.
“I’m very lucky to have them in my home town to train with one of the best in the world and with one of the best coaches I’m very happy doing three sessions of cycling and racing chair every week and four sessions of swimming.”

Nothing was going to stop her and she would win Commonwealth Games bronze behind Tapp and just 12 months later Parker was crowned World Champion in Lausanne and the Tokyo Paralympics loomed large until the Games were postponed – for Parker it was a minor setback in the overall scheme of setbacks.


In Tokyo, we witnessed the most unbelievable day of the Paralympics when Parker, who led the PT wheelchair class until the very last push of her wheelchair, when overtaken in the last few meters, the USA’s Kendall Gretsch claimed the gold on the line.

Our hearts broke for Lauren Parker, who had set her sights on gold.

There were emotional scenes at the race site and in Australian loungerooms as yelled collectively:” “Go.. Loz...Go!!”

To the ultra-competitive perfectionist in Parker, being overtaken with literally the final second of the race, the silver medal, was almost unbearable.

To the Lauren Parker who had acquired paraplegia after that training accident in 2017, the idea of reaching the podium at the Paralympic Games may also have seemed like an achievement of which she could feel immensely proud.

“This time four years ago I was laying in hospital bed thinking my life was over,” Parker said after the race, in which she was pipped by Gretsch by 0.01 of a second after more than an hour of racing, again quick to support her team.

“I had amazing support around me and, if it wasn’t for that support, I wouldn’t have overcome that life-changing injury. I’ve overcome many surgeries and many obstacles over the last four years. I definitely never would have dreamed of representing my country four years later.”

Parker led for almost the entire race except the last moment. She said she had become stuck behind another competitor she was trying to lap around a corner and lost a few decisive seconds.

“I just put my head down and went for it,” she said. “I’m happy with the effort that I put in. I’m proud of my effort.”

But there was no use trying to pretend. Parker came in as the World Champion and favourite. For her and Fernley, it was gold or broke.

“I’m not holding anything back – we came here for a gold medal and we didn’t get the gold medal,” Fernley said after the race.

“We both feel like we kind of failed. But there are so many messages and phone calls coming in now saying ‘Great job’ and I think when we really think about it, the American who won it, she’s a great athlete, she’s been in it for a long time and, to get pipped on the post, yes it’s a great shame, but we’ve still got a Paralympic silver medal and you can’t complain too much about that.”


And then after Kona (2021 IRONMAN World Championships) was postponed, and her goal of returning to the island of triathlon dreams was shot, Parker and Fernley then set their sights on the 70.3 circuit in the US.
And as they are about to head to Cozumel, the inspiration continues – thankful for the amazing people they have met along their remarkable journey who they continue to inspire. 
“While we have been here in the US we have been through a lot of grief but the two nurses who have looked after Lauren after she burnt her toes came with us to the race in Utah just to give their time up to dress her feet before we started,” said Fernley.

“They then dressed her feet when she came out of the water from the 1.93km swim...because they were concerned about infection and they stayed until the end of a long day to dress the wounds after she came across the finish line.
“They were joined by the two burns doctors, the leading neurosurgeon and the head nurse, knowing the course inside out, who also came to watch Lauren today.”
“They even went to the hills to encourage Lauren to keep going so in the overall concept of things there are some amazing people in the world and we just keep coming across them every day.

And Lauren’s St George support crew were there as she came across the finish line - after an agonising 7 hours 54 minutes and 53 seconds.

Come this weekend in Cozumel, those same champion nurses and doctor from the St George Regional Wound Clinic in Utah who cared for Parker last weekend will fly to Cozumel to ensure the young Australian is in the very best of hands.
“We can’t believe what these people are doing to support Lauren, it’s just amazing, coming with us with the full support of the Clinic,” said an emotional Fernley.
“They will come down and dress Lauren’s feet before, during and after the race to help prevent any infection - it has blown Lauren and I away that they think so much of this girl...we honestly can’t thank them enough.”
People who are inspired by Lauren Parker....just like the rest of us.