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Back on the track: Fortius athlete Kate O’Brien claims two world records at Para-Cycling Track World Championships
February 28, 2020 | by Fortius Sport & Health

Crossing the finish line at the Para-Cycling Track World Championships on January 30, 2020, Fortius athlete Kate O’Brien was surprised by the swarm of excitement that followed.

Having gone first in the event, she still had several athletes to go before solidifying any medals.

It wasn’t until the last competitor had crossed the finish line that she happened to glance up at the scoreboard and it clicked – her name was at the top of the list, with a ‘WR’ next to it. With a time of 35.223 seconds in the C4 category 500m para-cycling event, O’Brien had not only won gold, but had set a world record in the process.

“I was just actually so happy to be there with the para-team, and they were so amazing to work with and train with – so that was kind of where my excitement came [in], and then the world record was just a thing on top,” O’Brien said. “It has kind of added a new thing to focus on and trying to just be as fast as I can possibly be.”

On January 31, O’Brien topped off the event with a second world record in the 200m event: 11.519 seconds.

Even more impressively, it was her first ever para-cycling competition.

View this post on Instagram


I don’t know how to say thank you to everyone for everything that got me to this point, so I thought why not a spiffy selfie like this? But actually, being part of the @cyclingcanadaoffical Para Team and competing at World Championships with these amazing people made me remember why I love sport. It is the first time in a long time that I felt truly happy doing sport, not because of the hardware won, but because of the people and experience. It made me realize that the path isn’t always what you think it will be, but you can still get there and the path can be even better than you thought. I didn’t know I would get here, but I did, and was so happy while doing it. Thank you to @jennie_reed_racing @cyclingcanadaofficial Para staff and athletes; Dr. Taunton, Dr. Kasha, Dr. Staarveld, Dr. Kohli and Dr. Debert, who have been nothing but supportive of getting me back to doing what I love; thank you to my wonderful friends, my Mum @bethsmith602 and family and amazing cheerleaders and supporters! Thank you to @meghanrgrant for everything and for taking this outstanding selfie with me. Thank you, to everyone, for everything ❤️ Now I’ll stop rambling, at least in this post 😉

A post shared by Kate O’Brien (@emptykate) on

As a cyclist at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and a two-time medalist at the 2015 Commonwealth Games in Toronto, O’Brien’s path in cycling changed following a track accident in 2017 where she sustained a traumatic brain injury. Since then, she has been working towards her next opportunity at competition –the Para-Cycling Track World Championships fit the bill.

Today, O’Brien describes herself as a para-athlete who also does able-bodied sport. Her world records showcase the incredible capabilities of athletes in para-sport – something she has learned to appreciate and champion since she began competing in both the para- and able-bodied sides of track cycling.

“There is this big division between able-bodied and para worldwide…I would love for that division to decrease because para-athletes are equally as good, or some of them even better, than some able-bodied athletes,” O’Brien said. “It’s only since I’ve been a part of para that I’ve seen that there is this division.”

O’Brien’s cycling pursuits also have strong ties to Fortius. O’Brien has been able to access the world-class, integrated care available at Fortius, from strength & conditioning to chiropractic, massage therapy, physiotherapy and – importantly for O’Brien who utilized the service for a shoulder injury – physiatry.

“[Being] able to work with people who work with athletes, [they] know what exactly you need and are very good at their jobs – that’s a big part of it,” said O’Brien.

An athlete bursary funded by the Fortius Foundation and Altius Canada helped Kate access the support she needed. Altius Canada is a registered Canadian amateur athletic association, the sport equivalent of a charity. They provide support to Canadian athletes to fulfill their potential to compete at the highest levels.

Altius partners with the Fortius Foundation to help promising athletes access the rehabilitation and training programs they need to fulfill their potential. The costs of these programs can be a challenge to find financial support for.

To date, the program has provided bursaries to three athletes to support their rehabilitation programs. For athletes recovering from injury, the support can be life changing.

“Kate, continues to set the highest bar for what is possible. Her tremendous dedication, toughness, and resiliency are a true inspiration. On behalf of Altius Canada we congratulate Kate on her recent world record setting performance”, said Olympian and Altius Canada Board Director Jennifer Heil.

Looking ahead, O’Brien is setting her sights on Tokyo 2020. Should she qualify with the Paralympic team, it would make O’Brien the first Canadian to have competed in both an Olympic and Paralympic Games.

For O’Brien, it isn’t about the records or history book moments, though – it’s finding a deep appreciation for her sport and the love for the track again.

“I really love getting world records and doing well at events, but for me that’s second,” O’Brien explained. “[The Para-Cycling Track World Championships] reminded me why I love sport. And being part of such a great team and having great coaches and great teammates and having my partner there — it reminded me of that.”

For more information on the athlete bursary, the Fortius Foundation or Altius Canada, contact Andy Price at andy.price@fortiussport.com or 604-262-2532. The program is currently seeking partners to help support more athletes this year and beyond.