Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Paul Crake driven to help others in wheel chairs

The fastest man to run up New York's Empire State Building is back in Auckland with a new mission - to help others like him who have ended up in a wheelchair.

Paul Crake, 39, is the only person to have run up the Empire State's 86 floors in under 10 minutes. He also won Auckland's Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in 1998 before becoming a professional cyclist.

Australian Paul Crake comes in first for the 26th annual Fleet Empire State Building Run-Up. Photo / AP
Australian Paul Crake comes in first for the 26th annual Fleet Empire State Building Run-Up. Photo / AP

His sporting career ended in 2006 after an injury left him paralysed when a gust of wind blew him off his bike near Lumsden during the Tour of Southland.

He is now the Sydney-based agent for Italian paraplegic driving gear, notably a thumb-operated accelerator that fits on your hand like a glove.

"If you know you have to get up because you have work commitments, that's what makes the difference," he said. "I work long hours because I'm passionate about what I do."

Mr Crake, who grew up in Canberra, has always been driven. "Every day I got up, I had to achieve something."

Although he started out as an accountant, he "always had a thing for running up hills quickly".

"In the early days I used to run up the Sydney Tower five or six times in a row and then come back the next morning and start over again."

He switched to cycling in 2003 because of injuries, but kept up stair racing on the side. He won the Taipei 101 race up what was then the world's highest stair race just two weeks before his accident.

He credits his Italian wife Daniela with restoring his will to live.

He and Daniela had been together a month when the accident happened and did not marry until several years later, but she stood by him and took him back to Italy, where he had been based as a professional cyclist.

"Not a day goes by when I don't wake up and appreciate the commitment she has made," he said.

She helped him get a car with a thumb-controlled accelerator, a system invented in Italy in 1999. He saw a business opportunity when he found that the system was not available in Australia and not permitted in New Zealand until ACC funded the first $5600 system late last year.

His first Kiwi customer, Featherston stone gate manufacturer Peter Crawshaw, said the system let him keep both hands on the wheel in his regular business trips over the winding Rimutaka Hill road.

Mr Crake is demonstrating the system at the Show Your Ability expo in Auckland today and then in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin.

For more info go to totalability.com.au or 3am.net.nz/show-your-ability

- NZ Herald

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