Champion prepares Paralympians

11 October 2000

Tasmanian fitter and turner - and world champion athlete, Paul Wiggins, just can't stay away from wheelchairs.

"I may not be able to race them any more, but I can still fix them," says Paul, 38, from his machine shop in the tiny village of Premaydena on Tasmania's east coast near Port Arthur.

Paul still holds the world record of 30 minutes and 31 seconds for wheelchair racing over 15 kilometres, a standard he set in Florida, USA, in 1996.

The Tasmanian speed star also was the World's first wheelchair athlete to break 20 minutes for 10 kilometres with a time of 19.58.

Paul took up the sport as part of his rehabilitation after his back was broken when a car hit his motorcycle in 1985. He was an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship holder until 1998 when neck problems forced him to relinquish the sport that he loves.

"But the Australian Sports Commission has appointed me wheelchair technician for the Paralympics in Sydney," he says.

The Australian team has about 20 chairs and Paul will be fine tuning them all for the Games.

"It doesn't take much for a minor problem to become a major one. They are just the same as grand prix racing cars with the amount of maintenance and fine tuning that they can require," the Tassie champion says.

Paul is something of an expert on aluminium racing wheelchairs that can cost up to $6000 each. He spent three months in the United States in 1997 helping an eminent sporting equipment company, Cannondale, design and build racing chairs.

When he is not fixing wheelchairs Paul does maintenance work for local farmers and fishermen at his machine shop.

Meanwhile, Paul has joined other paralympians in urging Australia's corporate sector to provide more financial help.

"Many of the paralympians have overcome great obstacles to compete but they all find sponsorship very hard to get," Paul points out.

"Australian companies should extend their generous support to the paralympians and help get a fair go for all the athletes striving for Australia."

The Australian Institute of Sport is sending a 29-member squad to the Paralympics to be held in Sydney from October 18 to the 29th.

They will be competing in seven of the 18 sports at the games.

The head coach for the athletes with disabilities program at the Australian Institute of Sport, Chris Nunn, is predicting that Australia will come out overall winners at the Paralymics after coming second to the United States in the Atlanta Paralympics.

"We have a great depth of expertise in all the sports in which we are competing," Chris says.

The Executive Director of Australia's peak sporting body, the Australian Sports Commission, Jim Ferguson, says the Commission is proud to support the Aussie team at the Paralympics through the AIS.

"The AIS athletes with disabilities program illustrates our commitment to helping these determined Australians and to continue the role of the AIS as the cradle of all Australian sporting achievement."

Coach Chris Nunn agreed, adding, "the Institute is creating an infrastructure for people with disabilities to excel in sport."

Contact: Alan Reid - Media Liaison: Phone: 02 6214 1476

Mobile: 0408 417 894

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