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Parathlete Gabrielle Vassallo makes Child Safe Sports her personal best

19 February 2015

In 2009 triathlete Gabrielle Vassallo was training for the biggest race of her life - the Busselton Ironman - when a cycling accident left her fighting for her life.

Para-athlete Gabrielle Vassallo supports Child Safe sports

While riding solo on Sydney’s Southern Cross Drive early on a Saturday morning, Gabrielle was hit from behind by a car.

“I woke up five weeks later with spinal injuries to my neck and back, brain injury, punctured lungs and a partially amputated leg which the surgeons thankfully sewed back on,” said Gabrielle.

The car’s impact also tore a hole in her aorta so she now has a stent in her heart. Yet less than 17 months after the incident and the horrific damage, Gabrielle competed in an able-bodied triathlon, as a parathlete with modified equipment (a three wheeled bike as her balance is affected from the brain injury).

Gabrielle Vassallo recovering in hospital after her bike accident.

The 40 year-old is currently training for the National paracycling Championships with a goal to represent Australia.

The parathlete’s experiences provide Gabrielle with a unique understanding about the importance of keeping safe in sport. She is also a strong supporter of the Child Safe Sports child protection campaign being run by the Office of the Children’s Guardian’s (OCG).

“Sports are such a great outlet for kids to socialise, develop coordination skills, and ultimately create a platform for them to sustain a healthy lifestyle,” said Gabrielle.

“By ensuring sport is a safe environment, we can keep our kid’s happier and healthier.”

Gabrielle is one of the athletes featured in the OCG’s Child Safe Sports video that aims to raise community awareness about managing risks to children in sports environments, not just from physical threats but also emotional and sexual abuse.  

Gabrielle said that she was able to overcome her horrific injuries with the support from family and  friends and by viewing the setback as a ‘speed hump’, continuing her life as it was but doing things in a different way, such as using modified sporting equipment.

"I didn't do it all on my own, especially in the early days, and I wouldn't have got as far without my family and close friends being there for me.

“Without their support, that 'speed hump' would've felt more like Mount Everest."

Gabrielle Vassallo learning to ride a bike again after her horrific injuries.

Painting was also an important part of her recovery.

“Prior to my accident, you’d be hard pressed to get me in an art gallery let alone an art class.

“I didn't want to be indoors, when I could be outside playing sport, but I find painting very relaxing as it gives me a chance to shut the sport side off and to calm my mind.”

The child safe sports video also features Sydney FC Head Coach Graham Arnold, Captain Alex Brosque and Chloe Logarzo from the women’s team, the NSW Swifts players and Head Coach Rob Wright, Professional triathlete Lisa Marangon, Bondi Rescue lifeguard Andrew Reid, A-league football players Glen Trifiro and Jason Trifiro and some North Bondi Surf Club Nippers.

The Hackett Films production will be launched this evening by the NSW Minister for Sport and Recreation the Hon. Stuart Laurence Ayres MP at the 20th Anniversary of the Annual NSW Sports Awards.