Just crossing the line makes quake victim a winner


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The Independent Online

For most athletes, finishing 20 minutes behind the winner in any race usually means one of two things: sympathy or ridicule.

But coming last is not always as bad as it seems, even on the international stage.

Gaysli Leon, a 45-year-old hand- cyclist from Haiti who yesterday competed against the world's best time trial riders in the H3 classification, must have felt like a winner when he crossed the finishing line in front of a cheering crowd. The Haitian sustained serious spinal cord injuries during the devastating earthquake in January 2010 which killed many tens of thousands of people – including his wife and eight children.

He was left paralysed from the waist down but took up hand-cycling as he started to recover his strength.

Crossing the finishing line at Brands Hatch in a ripe old time of 45 minutes (the race was won by Poland's Rafal Wilk in 25 minutes) was quite an achievement for the man from the small town of Capotille, in Haiti's north-east. Leon is one of only three athletes from Haiti competing at the Paralympic Games, and only made it into the team on a wildcard when the International Paralympics Committee gave the country an extra place.

He is the first hand-cyclist from the poverty-stricken country to compete at international level.

Leon will have another shot at Paralympic glory tomorrow afternoon in the H3 hand-cycling road race, which starts at 2pm.