Jaco van Gass has compiled an incredible list of achievements since suffering life-changing injuries while serving in Afghanistan just over a decade ago, but competing at a debut Paralympic Games next year could top the lot.
Van Gass was serving in the British Parachute Regiment when he lost his left arm at the elbow and sustained a collapsed left lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee in 2009.
But since then he has run marathons, trekked to the North Pole unsupported, attempted Everest and climbed several mountains, and claimed world and national titles on his bike.
Now the 34-year-old’s sights are set firmly on Tokyo, where the postponed Games are due to get under way in 12 months’ time.
“Given the amount of sacrifice and preparation, the ups and the downs you go through and the number of setbacks you go through, for everything I’ve done over the last few years it would definitely be up there if not number one,” Van Gass told the PA news agency.
“Even just to go to a Paralympics, but even more so going there to win some medals and coming back with something to show.”
Van Gass certainly looked as though he was on course to do just that prior to the postponement of the Games, having collected three gold medals and two silvers at this year’s Para-Cycling Track World Championships in Milton in late January prior to lockdown.
“It gave me a great deal of confidence,” said Van Gass, even if he was quick to point out that he missed out on the title he wanted most of all, the three kilometre pursuit with a close second place.
“I knew I still had improvement to come, not only from British Cycling and what they call their marginal gains in terms of equipment, but I knew I had more to come myself.”
Van Gass, a keen cyclist since his youth, describes himself as a “product” of the 2012 London Games, having been inspired to give competition a crack after carrying the Olympic torch that summer.
But he missed out on selection for the Rio Games four years ago, and then took time away from the British Cycling programme to pursue other ambitions.
That experience means he takes nothing for granted in terms of selection, but the performance in Canada marks him out as a medal contender next year.
“Having put down that performance, I knew I just had to prove to myself, and to the selection committee, that I am capable of riding to this standard and capable of winning medals,” he said.
Considering the form he had shown, postponement of the Games came as a setback to Van Gass, but he has quickly recalibrated – and learned much in the process too.
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10 years!!!! • 10 pictures to showcase only some of the amazing opportunities and achievements since sustaining life changing injuries in 2009. • I have had many ups and even more downs… I have always been open about this. But I do count myself very lucky to have the amazing support from loved ones around me when those hard days come. • For those that know me, I try to live life to the full. I loved my job in the armed forces and have no regrets to what happened to me. • It has given me a new life filled with adventure, challenge, joy and love!!! I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring!!! So far we have The Pioneer, the World Champs and most importantly… @kathryn_pringle becoming my wife 😁❤️
“I think my background in the military really came into play,” he said. “In the army we train and prepare extremely well, but time and time again we will find it never goes to plan.
“You land somewhere and there’s a building that wasn’t on the map or a window where there was supposed to be a door, and you have to adapt. This is the situation we find ourselves in this year.
“But by putting it back a year, I’ve got a clearer picture of where I want to be and where I want to go.
“There’s still a great deal of uncertainty, but we just have to be flexible.”