Darren Thrupp is one of the world's most successful athletes, thanks partly to the outback towns that have backed this dedicated paralympic runner.
Story By Jim McEwan
It’s 2.30pm on a sultry Queensland afternoon and a few hundred spectators in the stands around Brisbane’s QE2 athletics stadium are cheering on young Olympic hopefuls and some of the leading athletes working towards the 2008 Games.
For the established jumpers, vaulters, runners and throwers this is a serious lead-up tournament to Beijing; for the younger athletes it’s their chance to perform well and break into the Australian track-and-field squad.
In the third heat of the men’s 100 metres a determined, galloping figure with an arm brace comes last, a second behind the winner. As he crosses the line other competitors shake his hand and ask his time. It’s a surprising scene – these are some of the fastest sprinters in Australia but their attitude is one of absolute respect and genuine interest.
The galloper is Paralympian Darren Thrupp and he is one of the most successful athletes in a country famous for sporting achievement. His Paralympic career has seen him compete at every Games since his debut in 1988 in Seoul and his medal tally makes him one of the world’s greatest.
Hailing from “blink and you miss it” (his words) Wallumbilla, on Queensland’s Western Downs near Roma, Darren describes himself as a bit of a sports nut. “I’ve always liked to keep fit,” he says. “From school days in Roma I loved running, cricket and playing A-grade rugby league for my home team Wallumbilla Herefords, although,” he says sheepishly, “I missed the tackle that lost us the grand final against the Wattles Tigers.” All the fun and games of Darren’s life crashed to a halt in 1985 at the age of 17 on an outback dirt road. “I remember the accident,” he says. “We were on our way back home to Roma from a cricket match against Seurat and suddenly there was an oil tanker in the middle of the road. We hit head on, the car was squashed flat and the gearshift was embedded in my left temple.
“I remember waking up for a few moments in the ambulance when they transferred me from the Royal Brisbane to the Princess Alexandra Hospital,” he says, “but that was it until I came around six weeks later.”
The prognosis was not hopeful; Darren’s mother Joyce was told he had suffered severe brain damage, was in a deep coma and would almost certainly have cerebral palsy. “We didn’t know if he’d wake up, if he would be a vegetable or if he would walk again. For weeks after [the coma] he was very withdrawn and shy ... we started to build a ramp but he was so determined to get out of the chair and walk that we gave that idea away.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #59
Outback Magazine: June/July 2008