WITH the world’s attention focused on the Olympics in Rio, Heath Francis personally knows the years of dedicated training behind every medal winning performance.
The three-time Paralympian grew up in Booral and represented Australia at the Sydney, Beijing and Athens games winning a total of six gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
He competed in the 100m, 200m, 400m and relay events and still holds the Paralympic record for the 400 metres despite retiring from elite competition in 2010.
Heath will be part of the Broadcast Commentary Team for 2016 Paralympics.
Heath tragically lost his right arm at the age of seven after it was caught in a meat mincer on the family farm.
His mother Margaret said the accident did not hold him back.
“He never once complained or whinged,” she said.
“He had a go at everything and there was nothing he couldn’t do.”
Mrs Francis travelled to each of the Paralympics to watch Heath compete.
While there were many highlights, Mrs Francis said events which lifted community spirit are among her fondest memories.
These include a Ticker-Tape Parade in Stroud organised by the community and watching Heath run in the Bulahdelah leg of the Olympic Torch Relay in 2000.
Speaking with News Of The Area, Heath said “carrying the torch was incredibly special.”
“Wade Park was absolutely brimming with people, everyone was out and taking part in it with me,” he said.
“When you compete you’re away from your community, so it was amazing being able to share that moment with so many people.”
Heath said returning home from Beijing in 2008 with three gold medals and two world records was an “unbelievable highlight.”
“Beijing was the culmination of all the previous hard work and executing three perfect races was a personal high,” he said.
“This also reflects the efforts put in by my entire support crew, including my mum.”
Heath said winning his first Paralympic gold medal in Sydney on home soil as an 18-year-old was another career highlight.
Away from the track, Heath has been the recipient of many accolades including an Order of Australia Medal in 2001.
He completed his Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Business Degrees from the University of Newcastle while training at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Since retiring from competition, Heath said he is “most proud” of his involvement with “many amazing charities” including raising over $40, 000 for the Australian Himalayan Foundation.
The 2016 Paralympics run from 7 to 18 September.
By Daniel SAHYOUN