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Alexa Leary wasn't supposed to live. Now she’s going to the Paralympics.

Alexa Leary always wanted to go to the Olympics.

In 2021, she was well on her way to achieving that dream with her sights set on competing on the world stage as a triathlete.

Physically she was a natural talent — but that didn't stop her from putting in the grind every single day. She ran, she swam, she rode, and she had just begun entering professional events, all while never letting that megawatt smile slip from her face.

At just 19 years old she was pure sunshine and grit, packaged up into a talented athlete who was sure to be one of Australia's next big stars. Then one tragic accident shifted the course of her life.

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In July 2021, it was a crisp Saturday morning just outside of Noosa and Alexa was out bike riding as she so often on weekends. Her father Russell Leary, her biggest champion, was tailing not far behind her.

While riding 70 kilometres per hour, Alexa clipped the bike in front of her sending her body hurling over the handle bars landing hard on her head. Russell could see up ahead and quickly arrived at the scene. His daughter lay unresponsive, battered and bruised.

She had broken her rubs, skull, scapula and leg; her lung had been punctured. And those were just the visible abrasions to her body — she had also suffered catastrophic brain injuries.

Alexa was helicoptered to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. As she went in and out of surgery while in the intensive care unit, doctors told Russell and her mum, Belinda, to prepare to say goodbye. 

The injuries Alexa had sustained and the complications that continued to arise from her treatment were proving too severe for any human to survive.

The breathing machine was switched off — but then a miracle happened.

Alexa began to breathe on her own. 

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Against all odds, Alexa continued to improve. Over six months, her parents kept a vigil by her side in the hospital as she learned about her permanent brain damage and how to walk again.

Unsure if she'd ever get on a bike again, Alexa channelled her natural talent for sports into swimming — a discipline she had plenty of experience with during her days training for triathlons.

On Tuesday night, almost three years to the date of her accident, Alexa unlocked a long-lived dream. At the Brisbane Aquatic Centre, the 22-year-old dove into the pool during the finals for the S9 50-metre freestyle race. As her hand touched the wall, she looked up at the screen and realised she had qualified for the 2024 Paris Paralympics.

Up in the stands sat her proud as punch parents, tears in their eyes, the gravity of the past three years hitting them. Their daughter, who they were told to say goodbye to, was standing poolside, beaming with excitement after qualifying for the Paralympics.

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Belinda and Russell Leary. Image: Channel Nine.

"It's unbelievable. To think that we had six months in hospital, never meant to walk or talk again, and she's off to the Paralympics," Russell said while fighting back tears in an interview with Channel Nine.

Her mum Belinda said, "She's funny, she's crazy, but most importantly she's fulfilling her dreams and what she wanted to do prior. She always wanted to go to the Olympics. That was her thing, always."

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Down poolside Alexa spoke to the media and her excitement was palpable. 

"I'm so proud of myself, I'll really tell you that," she said speaking about her achievement. 

"I'm so proud of myself."

She then touched on what motivates her and she explained that music has been a big part of her recovery. 

"I got a pair of DJ decks and I made the best songs off my DJ decks," she said giggling. "Not gonna lie, everyone wants me to make a SoundCloud. I think I will!"

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It's that cheeky, zest for life that is making her interview go viral online. Immediately the whole country connected with this warrior who has shown us what it means to truly grab life and go for it regardless of what has been thrown her way.

And boy, has she had a lot thrown her way. But it's her parents who have been by her side and that love and support is not lost on Alexa.

"They're [my parents] the reason why I'm here," she told reporters.

"They never left my side that six months in that hospital, never left me — like literally, stop working, stop doing everything and sat by my side non-stop all the way."

Cue all the tears.

On Thursday, she will compete for an additional place in the 2024 Paris Paralympics schedule in the S9 100-metre freestyle which is largely considered her main event. But despite what happens, she is just stoked to be going to Paris — and all the perks that come along with that very special trip.

"I'm so excited," she said. "It's the crepes for me!"

Now, the whole world is watching and cheering on this ray of sunshine who defied all odds to be here.

Go Lex, we're right behind you all the way to Paris. We'll get the crepes ready.

Feature Image: Instagram/@alexa_leary/Getty.

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