THE WOMAN who led the charge up Mount Buninyong for para-cyclists is shaping up to mow down more stereotypes in Tokyo this week.
Carol Cooke is hunting a Paralympic gold treble in the women's T1-2 time trial on Tuesday then will back this up by defending her Rio gold medal in the women's road race, for the same classification, two days later.
Cooke turned 60 this month, leading into the year-delayed Tokyo Games, and her competition keeps getting stronger. So does Cooke, who did her best single leg press in lockdown training this year.
This is not about being inspirational.
Cooke has repeatedly made clear it is not a label she likes as a para-athlete. Cooke prefers to be an elite athlete who inspires.
Her message has always been about trying to defy the odds, thinking outside the box and believing.
The same goes for preconceived notions on age.
This was a social construct on sport Ballarat's Kathryn Mitchell obliterated in capturing a Commonwealth Games javelin gold in 2018 and again in reaching the Tokyo Olympic javelin final, aged 39, finishing sixth.
Mitchell has been clear the strength deep in her career has been about mindset, timing and training smarter.
Cooke told ABC the past year had been about trying to train and make sure her body could hold up in lockdown. Ten months ago, Cooke had her first multiple sclerosis relapse in 13 years with the disease affecting her speech and touch.
New challenges she is determined to face in Tokyo.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis aged 37, a few years after moving to Australia from Canada, Cooke's doctor told her to get her affairs in order.
Cooke channelled anger into determination.
As a competitive swimmer, there were new classes to contest. Cooke represented Australia in rowing and, like many rowers, found she excelled in cycling.
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Cooke fought long for Australia's para-cycling national road titles to rightfully be held in Ballarat and Buninyong. This is the home of Australian cycling and yet, para-athletes were not allowed in.
Para-cycling was added to the Australian Road National Championships in 2018 - only with para-athletes shipped out to Cardigan due to ability concerns across a range of classes.
A band of para-athletes planned to contest the Gran Fondo to prove their worth on Mount Buninyong only for the open event to be cancelled under heat conditions.
Cooke and others argued the notorious Mount Buninyong climb is a realistic ask for para-cyclists, particularly when they were contesting time trials on the challenging Buninyong-Mount Mercer Road.
Para-cycling started making the Buninyong climb from 2019.
At the same time, Cooke has worked with Ballarat women in programs encouraging and equipping them with the skills to conquer Mount Buninyong on bikes.
This is why it will be exciting to see what Cooke serves up in Tokyo - it is about training hard and challenging the realms of what is considered possible. Ultimately this is what all sport is about.
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