The Road to Rio
Kyle Bridgwood spent five years with the Australian Defence Force, before a cycling accident changed the course of his life and saw him return from the Rio Games 2016 with two silver medals to his name and one awe inspiring story.
As an enthusiastic 18-year-old, sitting on a bus enroute to Kapooka, Kyle Bridgwood was about to embark on an intense three months of recruitment training with the Australian Army.
“I like to have a laugh, especially when a situation is serious,” Kyle chuckles, “There was a sergeant on the bus who was being extremely serious. I giggled, and well, let’s just say I got in big trouble. That was in my first couple of hours and it pretty much knocked me into line straight away.”
Initially endeavouring to pursue an electrical trade within the military, Kyle soon found his path altering. He briefly considered becoming a driver of one of the army’s light armoured vehicles, before eventually accepting a position in operations supply at Lavarack Barracks, in Townsville.
“While I was in Townsville, I bought a bike simply because I wanted to get into riding. I made heaps of friends and just found out that I was good at it,” Kyle reminisces on the early days when he cycled purely to socialise. “It never really occurred to me that I’d be in the Olympics or anything like that and at that stage of my life I certainly wasn’t considering the Paralympics.”
In the early hours of 15 July, 2011, five years after joining the army, everything changed.
“I was on Queens Road. I don’t know what I was doing there, no one ever rides on Queens Road,” Kyle says. “I was 15km into a 20km time trial, I took a u-turn and that’s where my memory goes blank.”
Kyle had collided head on with a delivery van.
“I don’t even remember the impact, I don’t remember turning around on that road. I literally have no memory of anything,” he says, “I simply remember riding.”
The accident severed his patella, almost resulting in the loss of his left leg. The tendons in both wrists were sliced; he broke his neck and back and perforated his bowel. A few years later, Kyle also discovered he had acquired a brain injury that affected his fine motor control and balance.
“I didn’t see it as bad, possibly because of the medication I was on,” he chuckles slightly before turning serious, “I just came to the realisation very quickly that there was nothing I could have done about it. That is what has happened. I couldn’t rewind it, so I simply had to deal with it.”
Adopting that attitude early on, Kyle defied medical predictions and was back riding four months on from his accident. A rapid recovery he attributes to the care offered due to his employment with the Defence Force.
“I absolutely believe that if it wasn’t for them I would never have recovered to the same extent that I did. They were unbelievable.”
Kyle continued to pursue his cycling passion, competed in the Wounded Warrior Trials in the United States and discovered that his altered physique could mean he qualified for a paracycling classification.
I can’t even explain how I felt in that moment, standing on the podium, representing Australia.”
“I met a guy who was in the navy who suggested I get classified,” he says, “that’s where it all started. I had no idea that I could be classified prior to that.”
After being medically discharged from the army, Kyle went on to win gold for cycling at the 2015 World Championships in Italy. It was then, that selection for the Rio Paralympics team became a possibility.
“I started training for it before they even released the teams,” he says, “When they finally released it and my name was on it, well I would have to say it was probably one of the highlights of my entire life.”
A highlight, that was quickly overshadowed, when the Sunshine Coast-based paracyclist claimed two silver medals in Rio.
“I can’t even explain how I felt in that moment, standing on the podium, representing Australia.”
Kyle’s eyes are alight as he thinks back to that life-defining moment, “I was blown away, just trying to take it all in. The atmosphere was incredible, realising where I was, was super incredible, and having my family there in that moment was just absolutely surreal.”
Having been named University of the Sunshine Coast’s Sportsperson of the Year for the second time in a row, Kyle is now set to embark on a new journey as a primary school educator.
“I’m actually so excited to study. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what I was going to do after leaving the army.
“I did get a little lost. Cycling is exciting, but now I want to pursue something that will make me happy long term.”
From an 18-year-old kid with a military dream to a paralympian with multiple medals to his name, Kyle Bridgwood isn’t ready to put away his bike just yet. While he may be studying for the next 18 months, his sights are set on another podium finish at Tokyo 2020.
“I’m definitely going for gold this time.”