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Army veteran tipped for Paralympic glory

Former paratrooper Jaco van Gass has been earmarked as one to watch at this year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo following an outstanding Para-cycling Track World Championships last year where he won three gold and two silver medals.

Adventurer and Team GB Paralympic Cycling team member Jaco van Gass was born in South Africa and moved to the UK at the age of 20 to follow his dream of joining the British Army.

By mid-2007, he had completed his training, joining the prestigious Parachute Regiment, and it was during Jaco’s second tour of Afghanistan, in 2009, with just two weeks to go, when he sustained life-changing injuries after his platoon was engaged by enemy forces.

After an intense 45-minute firefight, he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), with the injuries he sustained including the loss of his left arm at the elbow, a collapsed left lung, shrapnel wounds to his left side, punctured internal organs, blast wounds to upper thigh, a broken tibia and a fractured knee.

After 11 operations and intense rehabilitation, his dream of a long career in the Army was over.

If my actions can hopefully inspire someone, then that's amazing Jaco van Gass

Despite the physical and mental trauma endured, Jaco wasn't going to let his injuries stop him; he became a first-class downhill skier and marathon runner, completing the New York Marathon and the Safaricom Half Marathon in Kenya - regarded as one of the hardest in the world.

Jaco said: “Beyond injury, life goes on. Hopefully I’m not defined by a very, very bad thing that happened to me."

Jaco was a member of the record-breaking team of wounded soldiers to trek unsupported to the North Pole, joined by Prince Harry, and he has also climbed Alaska’s 6,000m Mt Denali in 2012 with the Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) team.

He also attempted to climb Mt Everest, narrowly missing the summit due to adverse weather.

Jaco's love for adventure continued in 2016 when he summited Grand Paradiso, one of Italy's highest peaks, as part of the Adaptive Grand Slam team, who are striving to break records by being the first disabled team to complete the notorious 'Explorers Grand Slam'.

Later that year, Jaco cycled the Carretera Austral, a 1,200km mostly dirt highway in the remote region of Chilean Patagonia, and his cycling odyssey did not stop there.

In 2017, with a team of seven others, he completed the Race Across America, cycling from west to east in just six days while in 2018, he returned to competing for the Great Britain Para-Cycling team and won bronze in the C4 4K Pursuit in Rio De Janiero.

After being reclassified as a C3, he won a silver in the road race in Emmen in 2019, before enjoying an outstanding 2020 Track World Championships, at which he won three gold and two silver medals.

Jaco said: “After I got injured in the military, the Paralympic Games became another pathway for me to express my passion and love for cycling in a different way.

“If my actions can hopefully inspire someone, or help someone to motivate themselves to carry on with life after illness, amputation, suffering or some form of hardship, then that’s amazing.”

Jaco’s quest for gold starts indoors on Thursday 26th August in the C3 3,000m individual pursuit and is closely followed the next day by the C1-3 1,000m time trial.

On Saturday 28th he takes part in the mixed C1-5 team sprint before hitting the road on Tuesday 31st with the C3 road time trial and then finishing on Thursday 2nd September with the C3 road race.