Growing up in an ultra-competitive sporting environment with her two brothers in Christchurch formed the foundation of Laura Thompson’s future sporting success.
She later gravitated towards basketball and impressed, playing as a junior Tall Ferns regular before progressing to the senior Tall Ferns squad only for a congenital hip disorder to leave her basketball dream in tatters in her late teens.
Forced to quit she was encouraged to cycle as a form of rehab and as her competitive instincts kicked in she started to participate in road cycling events and was quickly called up to the New Zealand women’s road development team based in France.
Yet on returning to New Zealand her former strength and conditioning coach and now Paralympics New Zealand High Performance Director Malcolm Humm suggested she should give piloting a crack.
“I didn’t have any idea what it was about but I always loved sport and it seemed like a cool idea to help somebody else,” explains Laura, who today carefully has to manage the hip disorder. “It perfectly suited my style. I have a big diesel engine and I loved the team dynamic, which I’d missed since playing basketball.”
Taking up piloting in 2010 within just two years Laura secured the trifecta of medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games – including a brilliant gold and world record in the Pursuit - alongside stoker Phillipa Gray.
Lately Thompson has formed a devastating partnership and tandem pairing with emerging Para cyclist Emma Foy. The pair banked gold with a world record in the Pursuit at the 2014 UCI Para Cycling Track World Championships before going on to defend their crown in the Netherlands earlier this year.
“I clicked with Emma quite quickly and it is amazing the way she has developed,” adds Invercargill-based Laura. “We complement each other. I provide the grunt whereas Emma is very dynamic and efficient.”
Emma and Laura then went on to win their third consecutive World Champion title at the 2016 UCI Para Cycling Track World Championships once again in the Women's B 3km Pursuits. “I like the effect of Para sport and I hope I can help the credibility of the programme and help it develop,” she adds. “That is my motivation.”
The pair went on to impress at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games competing across four events. For Laura her second Paralympic Games and for Emma her Paralympic debut. They won two medals: silver in the Women's B Individual Pursuit and bronze in the Women's B Road Race. Their performances contributed to the hugely successful New Zealand Paralympic Team that won a stunning 21 medals across 12 individual medallists in 2016 (9 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze). The Team finished first in the world per capita and 13th in the world overall (previous best: 16th).
Laura has now retired from Para cycling as an athlete to take up the role of Para Cycling National Development Coordinator. She is also coach to a number of riders and frequently takes on the role of Team Manager at international events.
“It’s not about the shoes. It’s about knowing where you are going. Not forgetting where you started. It’s about having the courage to fail. Not breaking when you’re broken. Taking everything you’ve been given and making something better. It’s about work before glory. And what’s inside of you. It’s doing what they say you can’t. It’s not about the shoes. It’s about what you do in them. It’s about being who you were born to be.” – Michael Jordan.