Paralympics in sight for Alex
ALEX Welsh is destined for the big stage, although the modest Korumburra man will tell you he’s just taking it one step at a time.
While most people struggle to get to the gym every morning, Alex is already out on the road handcycling a couple of hundred kilometres a week on his own.
Motivated and determined are perhaps the best two words to describe the 20-year-old; he competed in the National Handcycling Series in March last year despite having only just taken up the sport.
“I did the season just to get to know about it,” he said.
“It was good; I loved it straight away. It’s just one of those things I had to learn about before I kicked into serious training.”
Unlike a bicycle, a handcycle is built using three wheels and is powered by the arms, rather than legs.
Having competed in track racing in the past, Alex said he was interested in trying out handcycling after a motorbike accident left him a paraplegic three years ago.
“Racing motorbikes, I did cycling as training, and after my accident through rehab there was a guy who worked there that used to ride a handcycle to work every day; I thought it was pretty cool so I wanted to get one,” he said.
“It’s just a good sport to get into and the bikes are pretty flexible in the way you can get in and out of them. I love the challenge of it, and the speed and distance that you can cover. It’s one of those sports where you can still just ride with your friends.”
After starting work with the Australian Handcycle coach, Jenni Banks, in November last year, Alex kicked into full time training, which involves a combination of cycling, swimming and gym.
With Jenni based in Perth however, Alex takes it upon himself to get out there and train every day.
“I train six days a week, over a range of distances both on the road and on a stationary wind trainer,” he said.
“I ride between 200 and 250km per week at the moment and I’m still building as well.”
But Alex said having a coach helps him regulate his training and make sure he’s on the right track.
“I’m pretty motivated but it helps me a lot with structure and just controls what I’m doing as well, so I don’t do too much. When you do too much it sets you back, especially if you get sick.”
In handcycling, competitors are divided into four divisions; quadriplegic, high para (which is Alex’s class), low para and amputee, in which kneeling bikes are used.
Alex launched into the 2012 nationals two weekends ago, competing in a time trial, relay and road race in Echuca.
Also known was the ‘race of truth’, Alex finished fifth in the time trial, which was a 13km race against the clock with an average speed of 31.95km per hour.
On the Saturday night, a relay event commonly held overseas was organised to give competitors the feel for it, and along with Melbourne based Stuart Tripp and New Zealander Tiffiney Perry, Alex’s team finished first.
He then took on the 60km road race the next day, taking out third place.
Alex said his times all improved “100 per cent” on his efforts last year.
“I was much better, just from knowing what to do and being a lot fitter and stronger, and a lot more prepared,” he said, adding he enjoys both short and long distance.
“I like both; the road race is a different challenge because you can draft in that, so cycling tactics come into play and all the same rules apply to upright bikes.”
Although, at the moment, Alex describes handcycling as “mainly an older person’s sport”, he said more recently there have been younger people getting into it.
It is a fairly new sport compared to track racing and athletics; it was only introduced to the Paralympics in Athens in 2004.
In fact it is the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 that Alex has his sights set on; he heads to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra this Friday for a week, to train with other handcyclists.
“I’m going as a development rider with the Paralympic team, basically just to get a taste of how to train and get me in a good routine from the start so we can start developing now towards Rio,” he said, but clarifies he still has a long way to go before the big event.
“We’ll see how we go. I’ll just put in five hard years and hopefully put myself in the best position to be there. Mainly I just want to get overseas to Europe because compared to Australia, there’re at least 40 riders per class; here, mine’s the biggest class and there’s only eight of us.”
After Canberra, Alex flies to Perth to compete in the next round of the national series, and is keen to head overseas as soon as possible, as well as compete in the World Championships.
“I’ll finish out the Australian series strong and then hopefully go overseas with the team as a development rider; they normally head over after the Australian series, which finish in April, and do some of the European series races.”
“Hopefully I’ll get to try and compete with those guys for a bit more of a challenge and learn a lot more off them.”
In the meantime, Alex has set up a levy account through Disability Sport and Recreation to help fund his travel and equipment; unfortunately, handcycles are not cheap, with his new racing bike costing around $8000.
Anyone wishing to contribute can make a BPAY payment by using biller code 75325 and reference number 1130119, or by calling DSR on 9473 0133, with all donations tax deductible.
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