Australian Paralympian Stuart Jones did not have the Paralympics that he was hoping for. On Thursday, he was off the pace in the T1-2 road race, getting hammered by rain at Fuji International Speedway.
That was insult to injury after dropping a chain in Tuesday’s time trial, losing him a medal in the finishing straight.
As he neared the finish line on Thursday, out of contention for medals again – he finished eighth – you’d forgive him for finishing the race and writing off his Paralympics campaign as a disappointment.
But he didn’t. On his left as he rode down the finishing straight, he saw a fellow competitor – South African, Toni Mould – riding her trike alongside him, clearly exhausted, a lap behind the field.
Jones slowed to ride alongside her, urging her onwards, a massive smile on his face as he encouraged her to the completion of her own race.
Mould, an athlete who competes with cerebral palsy, is South Africa’s first female para-cyclist, and earlier this year said that through cycling, she had been able to “overcome depressive episodes and isolation” and “create new friendships” and that cycling has “given me a sense of community.”
“The health benefits far outweigh any medals or trophies that I might ever win,” she said. “As someone with a disability, I have to keep my body as active as possible within my abilities and cycling has given me that opportunity.”
As for Jones, he took the opportunity for a moment of humanity that transcended the number next to his name on the results sheet.
“Look, I wasn’t going to podium,” Jones told Australia’s Seven Network after the race. “That lady, Toni from South Africa, that is a true champion. That’s what the Paralympics are about.
“If I could encourage her up the hill, make her struggle a bit easier, what’s a place? If I come sixth, seven, eighth – who cares?”