Richard Nicholson, wheelchair athlete

Photos: Jeffrey Chan/Jay Cronan
Words: Jon Tuxworth

When a nine-time Paralympic gold medallist urges you to follow her footsteps it's hard to ignore.

Richard Nicholson managed to for a while after Louise Sauvage delivered a racing wheelchair to his doorstep 14 years ago.

But the former power lifter's life changed forever when he eventually yielded.

The Canberran may have been overlooked for selection for this year's Paralympic Games in Rio but after five appearances in two sports, he's still content.

A silver medallist in power lifting in Sydney, 2000, Nicholson was delivered a chair by Sauvage in 2000 but didn't make the switch until 2002.

He went on to win silver in 2004 and bronze in 2012, his fifth and final Paralympic Games.

"I'd met Louise at Atlanta in 1996, my first games as a lifter and she was pretty keen on me changing to wheelchair racing then," Nicholson said.

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"I bumped into her a few times at events and kept she kept hassling me about whether I've started racing yet, and I said I don't have a race chair.

"A couple of months later one showed up at my door, and fortunately we've got the same sized bum.

"I started playing around for a couple of years, just over summer when we weren't lifting to do something else.

She sparked an interest there and in Sydney there was a significant doping problem in powerlifting and I didn't think I could beat them if I played by the rules.

"Louise was a great role model and mentor to me, to have her in my corner and providing a few incentives here and there was great."

The 46-year-old became ill at the age of four and lost the use of his legs.

"I've had a great career and it's been a fantastic journey, it's provided me with experiences and memories I'll have for life," Nicholson said.

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"Whether you acquire your disability at a later age or not, it changes your life and sometimes insecurity and a lack of confidence are common themes.

"It [sport] has provided me an opportunity to build some confidence and self esteem. Fortunately for me I was quite good at it and it gave me a chance to travel around the world."

Nicholson's Paralympic appearances would have been reduced to four had he not shown remarkable resilience to recover from a horrific training crash in Switzerland before London in 2012.

With just four weeks until competition, Nicholson collided into a young boy chasing a stray basketball and was left with deep gashes to his face.

"It was my fifth Paralympics and my third as a wheelchair racer I felt I knew what I needed to do," Nicholson said.

"I got taken to hospital in Lucerne and had a severe laceration from the top to bottom of my face.

"At that point I thought London was gone and I was also pretty concerned what I was going to look like for the rest of my life.

"There's no doubt the crash wiped out some of my top end speed, but we got the medal in the relay. It was a test of my resilience in the end.

"I told that same story about a thousand times after it happened."

Nicholson still plans to race in some local Australian events and to devote more time to his other life passion of playing the electric guitar.

He sports a tattoo of legendary rocker Jimi Hendrix on his shoulder, someone he admires for being brave enough to think outside the square.

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Nicholson played in a pub band for years before his sports career took off, dabbling in 1990's grunge and hard rock outfits like The Angels, AC/DC and Metallica.

"What I liked about Jimi was he did it his way, he had a freedom others didn't have," Nicholson said.

"He only had three studio albums and in a short period of time he changed people's approach to electric guitar forever."