Ben Lucas – a Paralympic pin closes the loop on his career
Paralympian #99, Ben Lucas was one on seven Canterbury Paralympians who received their official numbered pin in November.
The official Paralympic number is a unique number that is bestowed only once a Paralympian has competed at their first Paralympic Games. But what does it mean to an individual Paralympian Kiwi Crew asked Ben Lucas, Paralympian #99, about what it means to him to receive his Paralympic pin. In reply, Ben said it means ‘a hell of a lot’ – to receive a pin is wonderful recognition of his achievements and ‘closes the loop’ on his career.
Competing in Para athletics in wheelchair racing, Ben represented New Zealand twice at Paralympic Games, at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000 and was flag bearer at both. Ben then went on to be Chef de Mission for the team in Rio in 2016. Ben said to represent New Zealand makes you a member of a very elite ‘club’, that stays with you as a lifelong achievement. Receiving a Paralympian pin brings all that together.
Asked if the pin evoked a special memory or memories, Ben replied it brings back memories of his entire career. From how it started in Richmond, Nelson with Morris Hennessey and competing in his first half marathon, something he had to tick off before being able to compete in a marathon, to how it ended as Chef de Mission in Rio. And in between, the many hours spent training, often six days a week in order to be in the top 10 in his sport of wheelchair racing, to realise his goal of not getting lapped on the track and being able to hang with the (leading) pack. Ben still has his training diaries; he says he used to keep detailed diaries and every now and then he opens up the box and has a read and he can clearly remember a lot of the days he’s written about.
Ben has been involved in Para sport administration and development through both Parafed Canterbury and Paralympics New Zealand and he talked about the changes he has seen in Para sport from his perspective as both a Para athlete and a sports administrator. He believes the biggest achievement he has seen is recognition of Para athletes as sportspeople first. He reflected on a news story from his early days in Para athletics that included a couple of lines about the sport and the rest was a human interest story. Ben says afterwards he spoke to reporters and told them that if they were writing a human interest story about him, he wasn’t interested. ‘I wanted to push the sport thing, I’m an athlete first and foremost’ and that’s the story I want told. Ben commented that in the coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, it was wonderful to see Paralympians portrayed primarily as sportspeople with the highlight on their sporting achievements.
Ben is undoubtedly a role model for aspiring Para athletes. Asked what advice he has for others and those thinking about getting involved in Para sport, Ben said sport offers disabled people many things. First of all, sport is a fantastic rehab tool; whether for those newly injured or new with their disability, sport helps you deal with the physical stuff about your body. Sport also provides motivation, ‘something to get out of bed for’, and there’s the camaraderie; the feeling of belonging and being amongst others who face similar or bigger challenges in life than you do.
And the camaraderie leads to making wonderful friendships and wonderful memories. Ben added that to become a Paralympian requires hard work, dedication and choices – Ben doesn’t like to use the word sacrifice because he believes it’s a choice and what you get from those choices is all worth the hard work you put in.