Sport

Katie Kelly hones in on gold at Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics with Michellie Jones

Katie Kelly was told she'd never compete in another ironman event after her eyesight had deteriorated so much she was considered legally blind.

Fast forward 12 months and she is preparing for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics as the defending world triathlon champion and proud owner of four gold medals.

Katie Kelly and Michellie Jones win the Yokohama World Paratriathlon event.
Katie Kelly and Michellie Jones win the Yokohama World Paratriathlon event. Photo: Delly Carr

Kelly has Usher Syndrome, which causes deafness and blindness. She lost most of her hearing as a child and her eyesight at the beginning of 2015.

Her success so early in her career has left her stunned.

"Yeah, it was just incredible," Kelly said of her world championship victory in Chicago in August.

"I just couldn't believe the position we were in. And to finish and to win the gold, it was just an extraordinary year."

Kelly's year improved further in January when she won Deaf Sports Australia's Outstanding Achievement Award.

She competes in the PT5 category, for athletes with a visual impairment who require a sighted guide to compete alongside them.

Kelly's guide is triathlon legend Michellie Jones, who won silver in the women's triathlon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

"She's dominated across all disciplines in triathlon," Kelly said.

"So when we race together, there's obviously a great comfort from my perspective. She knows how much I've got in the tank, and when to push me, when to surge, and when to hold back."

In spite of her achievements last year, the path to the Paralympics will be anything but smooth for Kelly.

The Australian Paralympic Committee relies largely on public fundraisers to supplement their goals, and the athletes must contribute with their own fundraising efforts if the target of $7 million is to be reached for Rio de Janeiro.

However, Kelly is confident Paralympians are well set in the modern day to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded to them.

"I think Australia is starting to see the fantastic story and the people behind the Paralympics, as in the athletes. And I think we all saw that in London, it's incredibly inspiring," Kelly said.

"We need to let people know our story. The support is there, it's a case of the Para athletes knowing and reaching out to the community to support them."

Kelly is a crucial part of Australia's Paralympic campaign. After winning gold at the worlds and improving her world ranking to ninth, she is considered one of the best chances for a medal in Rio.

Kelly herself is wary, as she knows she had the element of surprise on her side during her stunning run in 2015.

"I certainly don't take anything for granted or the capacity of my competitors to come back. I think I might have caught them off guard," she said.

"They're [the bulk of Kelly's opponents] in the northern hemisphere, we're down here in the south and there's not a lot of cross-over in our races.

"We don't get a lot of chances to test each other out and see where we're at. I only really had the world champs to see that. I think that's why I did take the Great Britons by surprise."