Par­a­lympian putting home town on map

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By KERRY GAL­LAGHER

Par­a­lympic cy­clist Fiona Southorn won a bronze medal in the Women’s In­di­vid­ual C5 Pur­suit at the 2012 Par­a­lympic Games.

Southorn is not just a Par­a­lympian, she’s a damn good cy­clist.

The 44-year-old track and road cy­clist, orig­i­nally from Toko­roa, is com­pet­ing at her third Par­a­lympic Games in Lon­don and she opened in style on Fri­day morn­ing, win­ning bronze in the Women’s In­di­vid­ual C5 Pur­suit.

It was New Zealand’s medal at the Games.

Southorn had missed the open­ing cer­e­mony on Thurs­day as she had to com­pete the next morn­ing. ‘‘It’s a small sac­ri­fice in the big scheme of things. I’ll be there at the clos­ing cer­e­mony,’’ she says.

Southorn has a full agenda at the Games, com­pet­ing in five events. The in­di­vid­ual pur­suit is her favoured dis­ci­pline; she al­ready won bronze in that event at the Para-Cy­cling World Track Cham­pi­onships in Los Angeles in Fe­bru­ary.

And to show her diver­sity, her sec­ond pref­er­ence is the road time trial. While at the Par­a­lympics there is also the op­por­tu­nity for her to com­pete along­side the men in a mixed team sprint.

‘‘We’re a bit tough at the Par­a­lympics. We do ev­ery­thing,’’ she

first says. Southorn com­petes in the mildest of five clas­si­fi­ca­tions for Par­a­lympic com­peti­tors. She was born with a shorter left arm, with­out a hand.

That can af­fect her bal­ance and brak­ing when cy­cling, she says, but it does not de­tract greatly from her over­all abil­ity.

She has cus­tom han­dle­bars for some events but only needs them to get a good start.

Her bikes are oth­er­wise the same as those used by able-bod­ied ath­letes and in road events she does not need the cus­tom han­dle­bars at all.

Southorn is more than com­pet­i­tive in open cy­cling races too.

A ti­tle at the na­tional cham­pi­onships in In­ver­cargill in record time is con­fir­ma­tion of that.

‘‘ I’ve been ha­rassed about it ac­tu­ally be­cause the two tan­dem pi­lots here are from In­ver­cargill and they said ‘your times would be up there with the elite riders’ and they are try­ing to con me into rid­ing at the elite na­tion­als next year.’’

Tan­dem pi­lots are used in Par­a­lympic cy­cling events to as­sist blind riders.

Southorn is a self-con­fessed late bloomer and moved to Waipu from her home town of Toko­roa about 12 years ago. It was there that she got into track and road cy­cling. She had been a moun­tain­biker un­til that time.

She adapted to track and road cy­cling and was en­cour­aged to try out for the Par­a­lymic team. Now she spends much of her time train­ing, ei­ther around the roads near Waipu, in the clos­est Velo­drome at Manukau or on the train­ing rollers in her garage.

And she keeps get­ting bet­ter. She’s al­ready com­peted at the Athens and Bei­jing Par­a­lympics and is in some of her best-ever form. Her bronze medal ride shat­tered her pre­vi­ous per­sonal best time as she fin­ished be­hind Great Bri­tain’s Sarah Storey, who took gold, and Anna Harkowska from Poland. Southorn will also com­pete in the women’s 500 me­tres, mixed team sprint, road time trial and road race in Lon­don.

Southorn will next com­pete in the road time trial tonight, start­ing from 11.02pm, and the road race on Fri­day, at 1.32am.

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