Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Australian Paralympics swim champion dies in train accident

From the Geelong Advertiser:

Paralympian Alex Harris (pictured) was killed by a train at Lara Oct. 27, devastating friends and the sporting community.

Harris was struck by a Pacific National Freight train and died at the scene.

His death came a week before the Paralympic gold medallist was to undergo life-changing brain surgery in the hope of again swimming for his country. Police said his death was not suspicious.

He was due to have electrodes implanted in damaged areas of his brain Nov. 4 to calm his uncontrollable movements.

Harris suffered a brain injury in a car crash at Bellbrae in 1993.

The accident claimed the life of his friend and fellow school captain Sharon Kirchner, injured others and left him with severe head trauma.

Ian Hanson, former Australian swimming media manager and father of Olympian Brooke, yesterday recalled fond memories of his mate "Shakey".

"There's no doubt that Alex Harris was one of the great characters of Australian swimming," Mr Hanson said.

"I am sure that a lot of people would agree that as soon as Alex stepped on to the pool deck there was never a dull moment."

Harris won gold and silver for Australia at the Athens Paralympics in 2004. He won three gold medals and a silver medal at the Canadian Open in 2003 and swam for his country in Argentina and the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

Tributes flowed yesterday for the loveable larrikin, who wrote on his Facebook page that he was "engaged to the love of my life", Nikki Smith.

Friend Liz Moore said she would always remember the fun times at swimming training with Harris.

"You'll go down in the history books fella as being a real fighter and never giving up on your dreams. You proved that anyone can achieve them," she wrote on Facebook.

Louise Angel said she would remember Harris as an inspiration.

"I was looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming surgery, the brightest flames burn quickest," she wrote in an online tribute.

V/Line spokesman Daniel Moloney said two trains were delayed 30 minutes as police sealed off the scene, and several other morning trains were delayed. Police will prepare a report for the coroner.