Paige Greco won the first gold of the Paralympics in Tokyo last month. Photo: Olympics website.

Australia’s golden cyclist Paige Greco’s bright smile lit up the Paralympic podium when she won gold last month in Tokyo. But, for the 23-year-old, the journey to get to the top began when she was only 11.

Australia’s golden cyclist Paige Greco’s bright smile lit up the Paralympic podium when she won gold last month in Tokyo. But, for the 23-year-old, the journey to get to the top began when she was only 11.

Her masterclass gold medal ride in the Women’s C1-C3 3000m Individual Pursuit, only 30 days ago, set the standard for an extremely successful Australian Paralympic campaign, as Greco claimed the nation’s first gold.

“I remember thinking ‘we did it’, because I have such an amazing team behind me. Knowing we crossed that finish line and we won, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a special day,” she told The Inner Sanctum.

Yet, it wasn’t always a cycling gold medal that Greco dreamt of. As a child, she began a long and successful athletics career in Victoria and stuck with her running through high school.

“When I was 11, I went to a talent identification day with Paralympics Australia and they said I should give cycling a go,” she began.

“At the time, I was really into athletics and I wanted to pursue that, so I stayed.”

But flash forward to 2018, Greco’s cyclist journey got into motion with a decision to leave nearly a decade of athletics running behind.

 “Once I finished athletics and achieved what I wanted to, I thought I had to give cycling a go. I had to see if I was any good,” Greco said.

Greco, who attended Sacre Coeur Girls College in Melbourne, was a track and field star. The school’s motto ‘Cor Unum’ (‘one heart’) is reflected in the tireless support of her teachers and family, who pushed her to compete in numerous ParaSport events at the highest level.

“I always credit all the staff at Sacre Coeur, like my primary school teachers who got me into ParaSport, they got me in my first cross country event.

“My family were really supportive too, driving me to school training and all.”

And looking back to the support she received, Greco’s athletics training has helped her make the change from running to cycling – from 15-second races, to four-minute ones.

“My events are now more endurance. I was adapting to the stamina, longer training because I was a 100-200 metre sprinter in athletics.”

Yet, the gold medallist always laughs about her biggest adjustment – gear. Despite adjusting from sprinting to endurance on a completely new machine, Greco says the most difficult part is the preparation to even get on the bike.

“I think it’s funny. When you rock up to an athletics event, you just bring your spikes and your competition gear. For cycling, you need at least two bikes, two pairs of cycle shoes, your kit, spares for your bike!”

Australia’s Paige Greco won Gold in the Women’s C1-C3 3000m Individual Pursuit. Photo: Bicycle Network – Twitter

Immediately after getting on the bike, Greco made the move to Adelaide, attending the South Australian Institute of Sport, just after completing her Exercise and Sports Science degree at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

“When I first told my mum that I wanted to move to Adelaide, she said ‘but you don’t know how to cook and you’ve never moved out of home!’ But we laugh about it now, because it was a good move for my cycling career.”

Only three years after uprooting all she knew in Melbourne, the 23-year-old’s journey in Tokyo began, and her ultimate goal of winning a gold medal at the Paralympics was realised.

In a whirlwind arrival in Japan, Greco was on the bike on day one and in a world record time of 3:50.815 seconds, she was the first Tokyo 2020 Paralympic gold medallist.

It’s still surreal for the decorated cyclist, who, crossing the finish line, completely broke down.

“The tears starting coming down on the bike [when we won]. I was in shock, looking at the scoreboard seeing a PB [personal best] and world record.”

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After the event, seeing her coaching staff and teammates around her in tears, made for an emotional interview, broadcast to the nation and her loving family back in Melbourne. With her signature smile, every Australian knew what this moment meant to her.

“I don’t think I could stop crying, I was in disbelief. The interviewer on Channel Seven got emotional so the tears kept rolling,” Greco said.

“It’s a special moment and I never want to forget it.”

Most noticeably in her interview, Greco insisted on the idea of ‘we’, a collective notion of the team who got her to the top.

“I always say ‘we’, because it’s never just me, it’s the whole team.

“When I compete, it’s just me on the bike. But to get me to that start line, there’s so many people. I tried to count them!

“There’s over 10, my coach, dietician, sports psychologist, gym coach, physio, masseuse. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to produce that result.”

Greco also went on to win two bronze medals in road cycling, the first in the Women’s Road Time Trial C1-3 and another in the Women’s Road Race Time Trial C1-3.

“I was super happy to be on the podium. It’s given me more determination to keep focussing on the road and one day getting on that top step,” she said.

A humble, respectful and exciting athlete, the sky is the limit for Paige Greco. And reminiscing, her only advice is to try out what you can because you never know adventures it can take you on.

“I say give everything a go. I gave cycling a go and I never really wanted to. Now, I’ve had such an amazing career and life because of it.”

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