Inspiring athlete to do Port of Tauranga Half

By Peter White

The Port of Tauranga Half on January 5 will see a who's who of New Zealand's top triathletes in action such as Terenzo Bozzone, Mark Brown and Jo Lawn. But it is also the theatre of dreams for so many others who have overcome debilitating injuries and will cherish finishing - no matter what the time.

Fraser Bright is one of those courageous athletes.

He was in a coma for 30 days, suffered multiple fractures and, most critical of all, irreparable frontal lobe brain damage.

But as a superbly fit 16-year-old, who was a good shot at going to the Junior World Cycling Championships, he somehow got through the coma but was given a desperate outlook by doctors.

He was told he would never ride a bike again, might struggle to walk again and may not regain his speech.

But Sharp was having none of that.

He came up with a mantra to live by of 'anything is possible' and has been doing his best to live up to that ever since.

"During months of rehabilitation, I had to re-learn all of my vital living skills, including how to walk and talk," said Sharp.

"But I was determined to get back to my training and achieve the goals I'd set for myself before the accident.

"In fact, I was so focused that during my rehab, I rode an exercise bicycle with a broken tibia, my foot strapped to the pedal."

Only 12 months after his accident, Sharp shocked doctors, family and friends by winning a gold medal in the Auckland junior men's 40km individual time trial.

He went on to compete at national level many times, with a personal highlight of coming fourth at the 1999 nationals in the individual time trials.

But three broken collar bones later, he decided road cycling was just too dangerous and gave it away.

Sharp is adamant sport played the biggest role in his recovery, especially in the dark years after the accident.

"My life has been built around sport and in a way it has got me where I am today in life," he said.

"After a head injury, you lose a lot of your social contact, and I was a young guy at school and people couldn't understand the change in me.

"I had something to go to and kept on training. Fitness had made me survive the coma, so I just went out and pounded the roads.

"I have continued to set my goals very high and continue to keep on working hard to reach them.

"That determination has come through in everything I have set my sights on."

For the last 10 years Sharp has been based in the south of France, working as a deck hand in the world of mega-yachts.

It was there his enthusiasm for cycling came back in 2007.

He bought a second hand bike and fell in love with riding around his part of paradise in France, where the cyclist is awarded the respect that sadly road users in New Zealand would never consider.

Fraser says the idea of competing in triathlons came through the typical New Zealand - Australia rivalry.

"My competitive spirit was renewed back in 2011 after an Australian skipper challenged me to complete the Nice Ironman in 2013.

"I took him on in my second-hand bike against his flash, bees knees, top-of-the-range bike, and I basically dicked him!

"He challenged me after that to do the ironman and he didn't realise I used to be a very good swimmer, so he pulled out on the deal and I went on with my desire to achieve the goal.

"I always wanted to do an ironman."

Sharp started training towards that major goal by getting back into the water, and also running, which is the triathlon discipline he has most difficulty with post-accident.

The first major event he entered was this year's Port of Tauranga Half when he was on his yearly visit home to see his parents who live in Ohauiti.

"It took me about 5 hours 10 or something.

"I hadn't done enough preparation for it and I was hoping this year to do more for January's race.

"But after my last event in September, my motivation went down with the bad weather so it was harder to train.

"So I am going into this one not as well prepared as I would have liked but I am training hard now."

Since the Port of Tauranga Half, Sharp has completed three Tristar Triathlons in France. His last performance in September in Lyon resulted in his best finish of seventh in his age group and 35th overall.

"A great result considering there were professionals in the field with me," he said.

This summer Sharp is not just settling for an improved time in Tauranga - he is taking on two other events to follow.

He has entered the inaugural 70.3 Auckland triathlon on January 19 before that long held goal comes true to contest Ironman New Zealand in Taupo on March 2.

"I am looking forward to doing both the events leading up to the ironman, and am pretty keen to ride over the Auckland Harbour Bridge."

The Nice Ironman follows in June which Sharp says is a tougher course than Taupo but he expects to be well prepared by then.

Such a demanding schedule would be a tough ask to complete for any athlete - let alone someone who has been through what Sharp has.

But he shrugs at the suggestion it is too tough and laughs.

"Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, anything is possible."

Fraser Sharp is raising funds while he is home for the Head Injury Society of New Zealand. For more information and to donate, go here.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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