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Paracanoe champion Gary Connor took home the Manningham Leader Senior Sports Star award, at Tuesday night’s Leader Sports Star Awards. Connor, who became a paraplegic after a workplace accident in his early 20s, raced in the National Sprint Championships in Perth in April last year.
As one of 18 paracanoeists, he claimed gold in the 200m, and two silver medals in the 500m and the national title in the men’s MK1 1000m arms-only final.
After a shoulder operation in November last year, the Doncaster father of two is back on the bike, in the pool and in the kayak again. He plans to cycle 600km through Thailand on July 4, raising money for Disability Sport & Recreation, previously Wheelchair Sports Victoria.
He received a medal and $300 sports voucher, which he plans to spend on sportswear for him and his wife. “It’s been hard training, especially being a Dad too,” he said. “My 18-year-old son Pierce is a cyclist and he wants to be the best in his field too.”
Mr Conor said the Thailand ride was the fourth fundraising ride he has taken part in overseas. “We donate wheelchairs and try and help people in these countries who just don’t have the funds or the infrastructure,’ he said. “We have been to Vietnam, Cambodia and last year we circumnavigated Fiji.
“For us it’s also a holiday but we are travelling, giving time, money and effort, with a group of people sharing the same motive.”The group will be riding from Bangkok, down coast of Thailand to Phuket.
Mr Connor is coached by Steven Vegh at Patterson Lakes Canoe Club, at Carrum, which is a paracanoe centre for people with a disability. “That’s where I started and I have one of the best coaches around,” he said. “The time I paddled in the Australian championships would have given me a silver or bronze medal in the world games.
“It gives me a lot of incentive to get back and train hard and see where I can take this.”
Sports stars from across Victoria traded their trackie dacks for evening wear at the Leader Sports Star awards on Tuesday night. Talented athletes of all ages attended the awards evening at Etihad Stadium, with 72 individuals and three teams recognised. Senior and junior winners were selected from across Leader’s 33 mastheads, with overall winners chosen from three regions — North Western, Eastern and Southern.
Along with a glittering medal or trophy, each winner received a $300 Sportsmart voucher — except for the overall junior and senior winners who walked away with a $1000 Sportsmart voucher and $1000 cash.