By Tom Decent
Seven years ago, on the third day of his new job, the brakes of the sewerage truck Darren Hicks was driving suddenly stopped working as he flew down a steep hill on an Adelaide road.
Hicks was sure he was about to die. Helpless, he could see cars in front of him at a set of traffic lights. Despite his efforts to avoid them, his truck flipped and crashed into the stationary cars.
Hicks lost his right leg and two people were killed. It turned his world upside down and left him a broken man.
Hicks not only had to come to terms with his leg being amputated – a decision made by his wife while he was unconscious in hospital – he also had to deal with the mental anguish associated with having to clear his name and avoid jail.
In his heart, Hicks knew he was innocent, yet for four years he had to fight to prove it. Eventually, an expert report concluded the truck’s brakes had been faulty.
Jan Spiess, the wife of a man who died in the crash, wrote to Cycling Australia and told them her family believed the up-and-coming para-athlete was innocent and should be cleared as roadblocks emerged in his path to compete on the world stage.
One day before Hicks’ trial in 2018, the prosecutor dropped the charges.
Three years later in Tokyo, Hicks now has a Paralympic silver medal to his name in the men’s C2 3000m individual pursuit, and concedes he doesn’t know what would have happened if he didn’t take up cycling when his world was caving in.
“Those first six months to two years of going through court and continuously seeing media and Facebook posts that were heavily against me [because] I was fighting to prove that I was innocent ... it was bloody tough,” Hicks said. “I used cycling as my way of working through my grief, working through my pain and not taking it out on myself in bad ways.
“Cycling and just the opportunities that were potentially going to be there if I managed to find my way in it, were huge. Without them, I sometimes question whether I would be around.“
Hicks trailed early against Frenchman Alexandre Leaute and crossed the line more than three seconds behind.
However, Hicks was a late inclusion in the gold medal race due to a disqualification. Belgian rider Ewoud Vromant was disqualified for a breach of technical rules. Officials said Vromant’s pelvis was not over the saddle and he did not maintain contact with the saddle during the ride.
“I was very satisfied to be riding for the bronze,” Hicks said. “It’s crazy but it’s sport. I was pretty shocked to hear of the disqualification, but rules are rules and I don’t make them. Very lucky to get into the gold-silver ride-off. I’m super proud.”
Some questioned the fairness of the final though, given Leaute has two legs to Hicks’ one. The Australian was gracious in defeat but feels he might have been slightly hard done by. Leaute has hemiplegia – a condition that leads to paralysis on one side of the body – after suffering a stroke during birth.
“In a three kilometre race, two legs is going to be a bit of an advantage,” Hicks said. “It’s the rules and how it’s always been.”
David Nicholas won a bronze medal in the men’s C3 3000m individual pursuit, taking Australia’s tally to two golds, one silver and a bronze in the velodrome.
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