Paralympics: Rider's road to Rio comes to bumpy end

By Peter White

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TOP CLASS: Tauranga road cyclist Fraser Sharp has performed with distinction around the world over the past 18 months chasing his Paralympic dream. PHOTOS/FILE
TOP CLASS: Tauranga road cyclist Fraser Sharp has performed with distinction around the world over the past 18 months chasing his Paralympic dream. PHOTOS/FILE

Fraser Sharp's journey to win a place in the New Zealand road cycling team at the Paralympics in Rio has ended agonisingly close to his ultimate goal.

The 39-year-old Tauranga resident was confident he would be named after winning two national titles at the Club Road National Championships held in Alexandra in March.

But just two male road cyclists were selected instead of the three Sharp was hoping for, so he missed out.

"I was in a state of disbelief but I acted very professionally, especially to the caller who had to break the news to me, which couldn't have been easy," Sharp said.

"I live with my parents, so when they returned home I shared the news with them first. I then broke down and hit a few bricks on the side of the house."

But Sharp is used to facing up to adversity. He has been living with a personal motto of "anything is possible" ever since an errant driver crashed into him on a training ride back in 1993.

The accident left him as close to death as is possible but survive he did. He had to learn to talk, walk, read and write all over again.

Living with a head injury has been a daily challenge ever since.

His sporting goal of wearing the silver fern in Rio has kept him going over the past 18 months since he became involved with Paralympics NZ (PNZ) as a grade C3 road cyclist.

Sharp's biggest frustration is that he knows he would have had a strong chance of winning a medal at Rio. "Selection was based on the Paracycling Road World Championship event in Switzerland in 2015. While I finished a solid 10th in the time trial since then I'd had a huge 8 per cent gain in wattage as I prepared for my hopeful selection into the Rio team.

"In hindsight, I wasn't prepared as well as I could have been for the worlds. My coach at that time and I didn't do the right conditioning and the actual course wasn't that well researched.

"So it was a lost opportunity, but I reckon I could have had a much better result at the worlds if I'd been prepared better.

"It's disappointing that PNZ only had two male cycling spots allocated to them for Rio.

"I realise the number of male cycling spots that PNZ is allocated is outside their control, but I'm incredibly gutted that my performance, strength and power and the peak condition that I was in, which would have likely culminated in a podium place at Rio, wasn't taken into consideration."

Paralympics NZ CEO Fiona Allan has met with Sharp since the announcement and has given him her full support for the future.

"Fraser had met the Paracycling New Zealand nomination criteria by achieving a top-10 finish at the 2015 Paracycling Road World Champs," Allan said.

"He has performed exceptionally well, but we were only awarded two men's slots and through the PNZ selection those two slots were awarded to two other riders.

"It was definitely not personal. All of us here at Paralympics New Zealand know Fraser is really disappointed. I know he had aspirations to go to Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and I know the devastation it causes any athlete that doesn't get selected.

"I have turned that around now to how do I best provide support for Fraser and how do I refocus him around his future goals in whatever they may be in Paralympic sport."

Sharp has not decided what his next sporting challenge will be but he has plenty of options.

"I'm disappointed about the lost opportunity, but I'm now focused on setting new goals.

"Given my experience over the years in triathlon and half and full ironman races, this may include the paratriathlon at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. There are also the 2017 World Masters in New Zealand, world championships and the Tokyo Olympics to think about."

Sharp is grateful for all the support he has received especially from the Western Bay community.

In April, the Tauranga Road Cycling Club organised a fundraising dinner and auction to help him pay his own way to Rio if selected.

"I was blown away. I felt totally moved with the huge support, not just from Tauranga but also from many throughout New Zealand and overseas," Sharp said.

"I would like to thank the Tauranga Road Cycling Club committee and all supporters, especially those who donated gifts to be auctioned and all who made the night such a huge success, including guest speaker Nick Gill, Bayleys Real Estate Tauranga, Mills Reef, Gourmet Trader and the Tauranga business community. I have stated I will give 100 per cent of the money back to the ever so supportive club, possibly for a junior Fraser Scholarship Rider Award. Also thanks to Dave Clarke from Sports Bay of Plenty who has been so helpful through the Sport NZ Pathway to Podium programme."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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