AUSTRALIAN hand cycling champion Michael Taylor is on track to represent his country at the London Paralympics next year.
If named in the Australian squad it will be a massive achievement for the Bendigo sportsman, who is paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident eight years ago.
Before his accident Michael loved getting on his bike, and he saw no reason for that to change when his legs stopped working.
“I’m still the same, but instead of being six foot one, I’m four foot nothing,” he laughed.
“There’s nothing you can’t enjoy if you put your mind to it. There’s nothing that can stop you, it’s all about attitude.”
Michael was introduced to hand cycling when he was in rehab. At first he took up the sport for leisure, now he’s a serious athlete, balancing training with his role as a stay-at-home dad to daughter Bailey.
In his bike Michael can reach speeds of up to 90km/h and he’s prepared to put his body on the line to reach his best.
“You’re so low your elbows hit the bitumen,” Michael said of the bicycle’s unusual design.
“I’ll come home after training and have blood down my arms.”
At the moment Michael is training at least 90 minutes a day, usually riding about 60 kilometres, hoping to get in peak condition to represent Australia on the world stage.
“I have been to the last two world titles in Canada and Denmark. I hope to go to the London Paralympics next year,” he said.
Michael’s sporting success is a far cry from the prognosis he was given after his motorbike accident in 2003.
“I was coming back from holidays riding a motorcycle and I was four or five kilometres from home,” Michael said.
“I don’t remember what happened. I just woke up and there was a police officer standing over me telling me I had been in an accident. My wife was six months pregnant at the time. My daughter was born while I was still in hospital.”
Michael said little Bailey was the motivation he needed to recover from the devastating spinal injury which meant he could never walk again.
“It gave me something to focus on because I thought, ‘I’ve got a child to support’,” he said.
But the road to recovery was not an easy one.
“Frustration is a good word, and demeaning as well, there’s a lot of things you can’t do that people have to help you with,” Michael said.
“Some of your so-called friends drop off because maybe they don’t know how to handle it. I never realised how hard it would be. You have to readjust to a new life.”
It’s clear Michael’s positive attitude and sunny personality were what helped him through those tough times.
“You have to just accept it, it’s hard to say that, but you just do,” he said.
Pete, Michael’s right-hand man, or more specifically right-hand dog, has been a big support too. The labrador is an assistance dog which helps Michael with difficult activities.
Michael’s spinal cord injury is quite high up so he doesn’t have any trunk control which makes balance a problem.
“If I fall out of my chair, Pete will bark and he picks things up for me,” he said.
“He comes everywhere with me, so I’ve always got a mate.”
Well almost everywhere, Michael’s bike doesn’t have a sidecar and it’s too fast for Pete to keep up when his master is out training.
But Pete does have his other uses. “He can open doors for me and he gets beer out of the fridge,” Michael laughed.