16/09/2016 10:21 AM AEST | Updated 16/09/2016 12:31 PM AEST

Blown Up On An Afghan Battlefield, Curtis McGrath Wins Rio Gold

A truly great Australian.

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Oooh, aaah. Australia has a new sporting champion called McGrath.

When former soldier Curtis McGrath lost his legs in Afghanistan while leading a team searching for explosive devices, he joked to his mates while waiting for medical assistance "see you at the Paralympics".

That was in August 2012. Four years and a month later, the 28-year-old Queenslander is a Paralympic champion. Overnight McGrath won the 200m Para-Canoe sprint at Rio's stunning Lagoa Stadium.

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What a journey.

Curtis enlisted into the Australian Army in 2006, aged 18. His focus was Combat Engineering, a role that aims to "provide mobility whilst denying the enemy mobility".

According to McGrath's website, duties ranged from "building structures and converting seawater into drinking water for both the Army and the local populous, to destroying bridges and clearing mines and booby traps".

On the 23rd of August, 2012, the decorated sapper was two months into a tour of Taliban-rife areas of Afghanistan when he stepped on a homemade landmine, otherwise known as an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Then 24, he lost both his legs in the blast.

ABC captured this dramatic image of McGrath in hospital soon afterwards.


As the ABC reported earlier this year, McGrath set his sights on Rio after months of intensive rehabilitation.

He took up outrigger canoeing in January 2014 and soon became a world class sprint canoeist. In 2015 the International Paralympic Committee made the decision to replace the outrigger canoe with the sprint kayak. Curtis had to adapt quickly, and did.

In the months before the Rio Paralympics, he trained 12 times a week. It was a long, arduous build-up.

"It's not easy to just wake up every day and go out and paddle. It's not as easy as that," McGrath told Fairfax Media of his training program. "You get up at 4.30am, you're on the water in the winter, it's cold, it's dark and you're busting your gut out."

All that work reaped its reward in less than a minute in Rio. Here's a replay of the race courtesy of Australia's Olympic broadcaster 7TWO. As you can see, it was tight early, but that enormous upper body strength saw McGrath surge away to win by more than a boat length.

McGrath showed that his champion qualities extend beyond the field of combat and the sporting arena after his race.

"It's not a time for reflection now it's a time for celebration. When I get home I'll definitely have a sit down, a think, and I'll start writing it all down," he said after his victory.

"I'll drink some decent coffee and reflect on the wounds that have healed and the people that have helped me get here."

ABC News