Australian triathlete Lauren Parker is returning to where her heart lies for her first race since her agonising near-miss at the Tokyo Paralympics.
The 32-year-old will race at the Ironman 70.3 world championship on Saturday in Utah, the second time she has raced over the distance since she started racing Para-triathlon.
But 70.3, or half-Ironman, and Ironman triathlons were Parker’s bread and butter before the 2017 bike accident that left her a paraplegic.
“I’m pumped to get back to Ironman 70.3 distance, Ironman is where my heart is,” she said.
Parker placed second in her age group at the 2015 Hawaiian Ironman world championship, triathlon’s most famous race.
Utah will be her first race since the Tokyo Paralympics, where Parker looked set for a gold medal in her triathlon category.
But after leading the race for more than an hour, Parker was overtaken by American Kendell Gretsch in the final metres and and was pipped by less than a second.
Australian team chef de mission Kate McLoughlin said it was her most heartbreaking moment of the Paralympics.
Parker confesses to “mixed emotions” about the silver-medal result, saying she was caught behind a competitor she was lapping in the last kilometre of the race and that cost her dearly.
“I feel like it’s a big disappointment, the whole race for me, I had it won,” she said.
“But when I think about it I’ve had to overcome so many things over the past four years since my accident, I never would have believed I could be on the start line of the Paralympics.
“I had a chat with Kendall the other day and she’s a lovely girl, but we both said we’re going for that gold medal in Paris.”
More than 3000 triathletes will compete at the 70.3 worlds – a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run.
Eight Australians are in the professional field, with Carrie Lester, Ellie Salthouse and Grace Thek in the women’s race.
The hot favourite is Swiss ace Daniela Ryf, who has won five of the last six 70.3 world crowns.
Tim Reed, who won the 70.3 world title in 2016, Sam Appleton, Max Neumann, Joe Gambles and Tim Rea will compete in the elite men’s race.
“The last three weeks preparing in the US have been bloody brilliant, prior to that at home it was very hit and miss with lockdown, home schooling and closed pools,” Reed said.
Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Kristian Blemmenfelt and compatriot Gustav Iden, the defending champion, headline a red-hot men’s field.