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Alistair Donohoe 7 x Paracycling World Champion and 2 x Paralympic Medallist

24 Apr 2020
Randall Cooper
"I have come to terms with the idea that my injury is a disability- I now proudly consider myself a disabled athlete, and like to think of myself as an ambassador for people with disabilities". Al's journey as an elite cyclist is nothing short of inspiring and he's just getting started!

My Journey Into Cycling

It was difficult not to be an active kid growing as the youngest of five in Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. I grew up playing every sport under the sun, so when my parents took up triathlon as a way of keeping fit, I naturally followed them into it. 

I started doing kid’s triathlons and then joined the Darwin Triathlon Club. This was how I was first introduced to cycling, and it quickly became my favourite part of the event.

Because I enjoyed cycling so much I became part of Darwin’s inaugural junior development cycling squad led by an Iron man triathlete, who wanted to develop our interest in riding. The squad had a holistic approach to developing our skills, aiming to expose us to all types of riding so we could figure out our strengths and what we liked; I found I loved the track and velodrome racing, and would go on to pursue this passion.

I ended up really loving the track and velodrome racing, so that became the path I set out on. 

In 2010 I moved to Melbourne to finish my schooling, exposing me to a whole new level of competition. For the first time, I was a small fish in a big pond. I kept competing and working my way up the ranks, and by the time I had graduated from high school, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do except to ride. I  loved racing, and I was getting better and better at it. 

I’m now lucky enough to represent Australia in international competitions for both able-bodied and paracycling. My hard work has paid off, and my accomplishments include two silver medals at the Rio Paralympics and seven gold medals at the Paracycling World Championships.



Reconsidering My Injury


In 2013 I met paracyclist, Mick Gallagher, who noticed my damaged right arm when I was training with the U19 Victorian team. When I was 14, my arm was injured in a rope swinging accident, leaving it permanently weakened. Seeing this, Mick suggested paracycling and encouraged me to put myself forward for the team.

The idea of competing in paracycling had never occurred to me before meeting Mick. At first, I really wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I had certainly never thought of my injury as a disability. Although I had sustained permanent damage in my right arm and hand, I had adapted to it as a kid and learned to live life with my new reality. I never thought of it as a life changing event; in fact, I can’t really remember what life was like before the accident.

So naturally, putting myself forward for paracycling forced me to reconsider myself and my injury. Even when I was given the all clear by organisers and officially categorised as a C5 paracyclist, I still felt like I didn’t really meet my own expectation of what the ‘typical’ athlete with a disability looked like.

That all changed when I went overseas for the first time, to be officially classified for international competition. When I saw that all the C5 athletes there were just like me and not overly visibly impaired, I felt a lot less hesitant. And when I saw just how good they were, I lost my hesitation altogether.

In my first track para-cycling world championships in 2013 I won two bronze medals, and me and my coaches realised I had the potential to go a lot further in this category. Rio was only three years away, so that became my goal. With that achieved in what was an incredible life experience, my new goal is to take gold at the Tokyo Paralympics.

I have come to terms with the idea that my injury is a disability- I now proudly consider myself a disabled athlete, and like to think of myself as an ambassador for people with disabilities.



What Motivates Me/ Experiencing loss: what motivates me


My motivation has certainly developed over the years. At the beginning, it was pure competitiveness. When you’re young, you just want to win and be successful at what you’re doing. I was driven by raw competitive drive. But going towards the Rio Olympics, I could feel my motivation changing.

My old man passed away in an accident when I was 11, and as I approached Rio this started to dominate my thoughts. As a kid I’d always understood what had happened, but I’d never really fully processed or come to terms with it. As I grew older, I began to think about my dad a lot, and the pain of losing him really became a source of emotional motivation for me.

At times, when training I’d pull up and have a bit of a cry, because of all the emotions that lingered inside me. The desire to honour my dad’s memory became my main motivation; I got a tattoo in homage to him and I dedicate a lot of my wins to him.

In the years since Rio, I’ve definitely come to terms with my Dad’s death. I have been able to process what happened properly, and can now talk about him without getting upset. It fills me with joy being able to tell people about how good of a man he was.

My motivation evolved further as I began to think more about what I’m doing and why I do what I do. The idea of helping people is really important to me, and coupled with my status as a paracyclist, I now am motivated by trying to be an advocate and ambassador for young people with disabilities.

There is no widespread understanding of just how much people with a disability can achieve and the cool experiences they can have, which is why I want to be that example for young people growing up with a disability. Obviously the competition is what I love, but it’s what I can do after the competition to help others which is what motivates me.



How Premax Helps Me


I came across Premax during my time at the Victorian Institute of Sport. The physios there used Premax’s massage cream and I immediately noticed the difference- when I was on tour previously the masseur would use massage oils and my skin would get really irritated, the result was bad rashes because of all the oil; but I noticed every time I was treated at the VIS I never have these issues because of the quality of Premax’s cream.

The VIS (Victorian Institute of Sport) also used other Premax products like the sunscreen and chamois cream, which are now an integral part of my riding.

I don’t know what Premax do to make their sunscreen but it doesn’t sweat- this was the biggest thing stopping me from wearing sunscreen before I came across Premax. No matter how hot or how hard I am working, the sunscreen stays on without sweating and irritating my eyes, so it’s now my go-to for when I’m riding.

I also love the anti-bacterial shammy cream because I know how being on the saddle all day can cause terrible chafing. know people who had such bad saddle sores that they had to get surgery and I’m lucky not to have that problem thanks to Premax’s shammy cream.

I use these products daily. By giving me the tools to ride comfortably and protect me from sun damage, Premax is crucial to my performance.


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