Gordon Allan has won a swag of Para cycling world championships medals, but he shakes his head in disbelief while telling the story of his first-ever race as an overly enthusiastic 13-year-old.

Allan, who features in the five-episode NSWIS Lights Up documentary series which focusses on his career, has painful memories of using a borrowed bike for a road race. Indeed, he finished the race footsore and exhausted because he almost walked as much of the Canberra course as he pedalled along it.

After attending a Paralympics Australia Talent Search Day, Allan was inspired by the two-time Athens Para cycling gold medallist, Peter Brookes OAM, who encouraged, and helped him to join his local club.

“My first Para crew lent me a bike to start off with . . .  just an old club bike,” Allan, who is pushing for selection at the Paris Paralympic Games recalled. “It was an old road bike, and I couldn’t shift gears because it wasn’t electronic shifting, so I didn’t have it set up for any adaptation.

“I stuck it in one gear and just did the time trial as best I could. I remember getting off halfway and I had to walk up the hill and then get back on the bike again. But, at that stage I would’ve been young. I just enjoyed riding.”

Allan, who was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP), became hooked on the thrill and freedom he felt while riding a bike after one of his mates showed him the shiny, brand-new bicycle he’d received as a gift from his parents. After pointing out its numerous ‘you beaut’ features, the mate dared Allan to ride down the steep grassy hill in the park situated behind his family home.

“And [my friend’s] like, ‘I dare you to ride the bike down the hill,” he said with a grin. “And I was like ‘yeah!’ so I jumped on the bike . . . I don’t know why . . . but I did straight up, right? And then I was like, ‘that’s cool, that’s awesome.’ Within a couple of weeks, I had a bike, my parents helped me out . . . got me a bike . . . and from there it started.

“I guess like before that I used to worry that you might not have the balance to [ride]. Earlier on, I just thought that riding a bike was not going to be achievable. When I was a kid, I just couldn’t get off the training wheels, and I didn’t have the balance.

“I didn’t ride a bike for a few years, so, when I did, I was old enough and I’d developed that sort of skill that maybe I didn’t have when I was that little bit younger.”

While Allan had been reluctant to ride a bike through the embarrassment of needing training wheels, his childhood was crammed with all number of sporting commitments as his parents encouraged him to have a go at everything he wanted to try.

“I had a great childhood,” he said. “I had a great family, a great upbringing as an only child. My parents, they let me get into sport. They let me do trials, and all sorts of sports. Their big thing was they didn’t want anything to hold me back.

“So, if I wanted to try swimming, I tried swimming. Want to try athletics? I tried athletics. I remember like when I was young, maybe, eight, nine, or 10 doing swimming, athletics, soccer, and karate all in one week.

It was a great childhood and I think it’s definitely helped me be where I am today.”

Allan had no idea about the Paralympics until he went on holidays with his family and some friends on the south coast of NSW, and he watched the 2012 Beijing Paralympics on television. The idea of becoming a Paralympian became his goal.

“I didn’t know you could go to that level in Para sport,” he said. “Seeing people on TV with disabilities and racing, at a high level, it was like, ‘that’s awesome. At that stage I wanted to be Paralympian in athletics or in swimming. But I think at that age I was just excited to compete.”

Gordon Allan & Tim Hodge at a local sports carnival.
Gordon Allan & Para swimming world champion Tim Hodge at a local sports carnival.

After missing selection for the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Allan fulfilled his dream to become an Olympian when he was picked to compete in the COVID-impacted Tokyo Games. And while he didn’t return from Japan with a medal, Allan left everything on the track.

“I rode quicker than I thought I would have,” he said. “So, I think like I can’t ask anything more for myself there.

“And I think just being able to being able to wear the skin suit and make it to the start line without getting out, getting covered was entertainment in itself. Being able to race and represent my country [as a Paralympian] was definitely the highlight of my career so far.”

Allan said his advice to any athlete was to fight for everything.

“It’s just taking the sport by the horns and just doing what you can,” he said. “Not letting anything hold you back. And if you’ve got a goal working towards that goal and just really try and do your best and get to where you want to be

Once I’m in that gate and my feet locked in, put the visor on, I’m just focusing on the countdown,” he said. “I know what I’m going to do. I know the pain that’s coming up. It’s like a bit of white line fever, something you just you cross over, and you just get in the zone.”

He also suggested if anyone was to take anything from his story it was the importance of having a go, and not allowing for aspects of life to be a reason for not trying new things.

“We all have our challenges,” he said. “It makes you think about things maybe in a different way, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Whether it is learning to ride a bike, whether it’s learning to swim . . .  not everyone can swim their first time. Things don’t come natural to everybody.

“I’ve really had to work for it. If you really want to do something, whether it’s in sport, whether it’s in life, it’s that same hunger. It’s just me starting from that step back from everyone else.

If anyone could take anything from my life story, I think it’s just the ability to try new things and to just keep pushing. Whether or not something seems achievable or not, just have a crack at it, give it a try and you never know where it’ll take you.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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