January 7, 2007
FIVE-time Empire State Building stairs race champion-turned professional cyclist Paul Crake is determined to prove his surgeon wrong by walking again after a freak accident left his legs paralysed.
Crake almost died when he fractured some vertebrae in his back and neck when a wind gust blew him off his bike and smashed him into a fence post at high speed during the Tour of Southland in New Zealand on November 11. He also had two punctured lungs, a crushed bottom lip and a broken nose.
The surgeon who operated on his spine told him he would never walk again. However, he is refusing to accept that prognosis and has vowed to get back on his feet.
Speaking for the first time about his predicament, Crake asked that this be a positive story.
He’s been overwhelmed by hundreds of messages of support from around the world and wanted to say a public thank you.
“So many people have been thinking of me,” he said. “It seems to have pulled on people’s heartstrings.
“I guess you look at what I’d achieved against the situation I’m in now and maybe that’s why people have wanted to wish me well.”
Crake said his first memory after the accident was when, days later, a friend said, ‘Paul, you’ve had an accident but you’re going to be OK. Keep cool.’
“I never realised how close I came to dying because by the time I knew what was happening I was out of immediate danger,” he said.
“My main focus straight away became getting on my feet. That’s been the objective ever since.”
Crake has a positive outlook. But he is only human. “I look at what I’ve done, what I was capable of and now look at this situation and it’s very hard to come to terms with – very, very hard,” he said. “It’s cruel what life can throw at you at times.
“I have my good days and bad. You shed your tears, you can’t avoid that.
“But I believe I can walk again, I will walk again. I don’t know when. I’m doing everything I can. Statistically I’ve been given a small chance. But I only need 1 or 2 per cent.”
Crake, who turned 30 last month, had been a runner and completed a banking and finance degree.
He won the annual race up the stairs of the 86-storey Empire State Building in New York from 1999 to 2003 and still holds the record for the fastest ascent of nine minutes, 33 seconds. He then switched his focus to road cycling and in 2004 was signed by an Austrian team and performed well.
“In 2006 I rode for a bigger Italian team but I had a few back problems,” he said. “Now I look back and wonder what I was complaining about. We take a lot for granted in life.”
Crake was interested to see how his career would go in 2007, but now it will be a year of rehabilitation.
“I’m not going to pressure myself,” he said. “Once the sensations come back, which I’m determined they will, there’s a lot of work ahead of me to be able to walk.
“It’s the biggest challenge of my life. Anything in the past is insignificant.”
Support has come from far and wide, including New York. “It’s overwhelming,” Crake said. To donate to the Paul Crake appeal, go to the website www.cycling.org.au.