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Amazing driving comeback rewarded

Stroke survivor Charles Wannop entered yesterday's National Capital Rally not expecting to complete the six stages separating him from the finish line.

So discovering he'd collected second place in the novice category after conquering the gruelling event just one week shy of his 50th birthday was an unexpected but very deserved bonus.

Three years ago the Canberra man suffered a type of intra-cranial haemorrhage, a severe stroke which has a 60 per cent mortality rate.

He found himself in the minority and began a painfully slow recovery which ultimately led him back to the sport he loves.

''I was working as a computer consultant, I was writing out a couple of emails and my hand kept on falling off the keyboard,'' Wannop said.

''I went to stand up and I couldn't, I then spent two weeks in hospital and another three at the rehabilitation centre here attached to the Canberra Hospital doing things like learning to walk again.


''It's still an ongoing treatment thing, I'm still having acupuncture once a week to stimulate the nerves and to encourage the brain to remap itself.

''I never lost power, I have some dullness in some parts and other parts it just hurts a lot.''

Only 20 per cent of survivors are able to live unassisted, another minority group Wannop has managed to become a member of.

For three years before the stroke the Canberra man gradually turned his cherished Volkswagen Golf into a rally vehicle.

And a fortnight before the brain haemorrhage he debuted in the National Capital Rally, but until yesterday the white zebra-striped car had been sitting idly in the shed for almost three years, waiting patiently for its next assignment.

Within 12 months of the stroke, Wannop had regained his civil licence and about a year ago he started considering a comeback in the sport.

''I kept seeing the rally car in the shed each day and thinking, 'I spent three years building you, I'd really like to get out and play with you again','' Wannop said.

''That started the incentive to get back in the seat.

''The organisers and the local rally community have just been amazing and it's downright embarrassing to be honest.

''The plan [yesterday] was to do two [stages] and then see how I felt.

''I did two and I felt good, I found I was enjoying myself. Then I went out and did another one and that was kind of fun too and Mike Behnke my navigator, who's a very experienced and very capable driver himself, was just really encouraging and kept me going.

''There was only a couple more stages to go to be classed as a finisher for the rally and it turns out I've taken out second place in the novice division because there was only one other novice driver left in the field.''

NSW North Coast visitor Peter Roberts and navigator Jim Gleeson won yesterday's rally with Canberra father-and-son duo Peter and Michael Taylor only six seconds back in second spot.

Fellow Canberran Michael Barrett and his partner Amy Stevens were third in the race which only 14 of the 31 entrants finished.