Emotion overflows as miracle woman books Paris ticket

Emotion overflows as miracle woman books Paris ticket

Alexa Leary suffered such a traumatic brain injury that a titanium plate, a shunt and special clips are required to keep her head together and working.

But at the Australian Paris 2024 swimming trials on Tuesday night, some three years after a horrific bike accident, the 22-year-old secured her ticket for her debut Paralympic Games.

The Sunshine Coast product tore through the women’s multi-class 50m freestyle in 27.89 seconds, winning the race and nailing the Paralympic entry standard of 28.27.

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Her dogged attitude and vivacious personality were palpable as she celebrated the swim at Brisbane Aquatic Centre. Eyeballing the timing board, she pumped a first, before chatting to Nine’s Giaan Rooney in a poolside interview overflowing with elation.

“Yeah, Lex, woo!” Leary beamed.

“I’ve actually come so far. I’m so impressed I’m even in the water. I’m like, ‘Yeah, Lex, you’ve come so far’.”

Alexa Leary and her dad.

Alexa Leary booked her ticket to the Paris Paralympics, leaving her dad choking back tears in a beautiful TV interview. Getty/Nine

Talking to Nine’s Roz Kelly in the stands, Leary’s dad choked back tears.

“It’s unbelievable. To think that we had six months in hospital, never meant to walk or talk again, and she’s off to the Paralympics,” Russ said.

“We got a different daughter back,” said mum Belinda.

“I love her personality. She’s funny, she’s crazy, but most importantly she’s fulfilling her dreams and what she wanted to do prior … She always wanted to go to the Olympics. That was her thing, always.”

Gazing down at his daughter from the stands, Russ had a beautiful message.

“You’re a bloody legend,” he said.

“Honey, we love you,” her mum added.

“We’re so proud of you … and I just can’t wait to see how you go [in Paris].”

Leary is eternally grateful for her parents.

“I would say they are the reason why I am here because they stuck by my side for six months in that hospital and never let go of me,” she said.

Watch Australia’s Paris 2024 swimming trials on Nine and 9Now.

On a bike ride just outside Noosa one Saturday morning in July 2021, Leary’s front wheel clipped a bike in front of her.

She crashed at about 70km/h.

Her dad, who had been close behind on his own bike, arrived at a hellish scene.

His daughter was unconscious. Blood was everywhere. Her ribs, skull, scapula and leg were broken. And she had a punctured lung.

As she lay in a Brisbane hospital bed later that day, her parents were told to say goodbye to her. It was the first of eight times they would say goodbye.

That night, not able to breathe on her own, she underwent lifesaving surgery. She was going to die unless she had part of her scalp removed.

The surgery was a success, but the following night she suffered a major blood clot. Medication could have saved her, but it also could have killed her. The following night, she had a fever. The complications went on.

After 111 days in hospital, Leary, 19 at the time, returned home.

There’s a remarkable video on Instagram of two physiotherapists guiding her across a hospital room. There’s another person pushing a wheelchair behind her, in case she needs to take a break. She’s wearing a rugby league headgear and has a cord hanging from her nose.

Alexa Leary launches from the blocks at the trials.

Alexa Leary launches from the blocks at the trials. Getty

Leary has permanent brain damage and weakness down the right side of her body. She has memory problems and struggles with her emotions.

The shunt in her brain is a tube that runs to her stomach, draining fluid as it builds up. The special clips hold various parts of her detached scalp in place.

At the World Para Swimming Championships in Manchester last August, she won the women’s 100m freestyle S9.

In Sydney in May, she clocked 59.37 seconds to break her own world record.

“I’m so excited,” Leary said on Tuesday night of the Paris Games.

“It’s the crepes for me!”

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