Former soldier Jaco van Gass will approach his maiden Paralympics like a military operation as he prepares to realise a dream sparked by London 2012.
The 34-year-old, who was on Thursday named in Great Britain’s cycling team for this summer’s Games, suffered life-changing injuries when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2009 while serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan.
He has recovered from the devastating impact of war to trek to the North Pole, run multiple marathons, conquer mountains across the globe and become a world champion cyclist.
South Africa-born Van Gass believes many of the skills learnt during his army days can be applied to elite sport.
“My military background and the mindset and everything that I’ve been taught from my career has been hugely beneficial for my sports career,” he told the PA news agency.
“The ability to adapt to circumstances very quickly – it’s very similar in the military.
“Every time you’re deployed on a mission, you sit in a briefing, you know what it looks like, you know what door you’re coming into and you land on a helicopter, you run out and there’s a different building and [since] the time they’ve taken that photo something has changed and you have to compromise and you have to think on your feet and go with the situation. And it’s a lot similar within professional sport as well.
“It doesn’t always work out in the same way you planned but you have to be flexible and adaptable and learn from those experiences.
“I see every bike race as a mission, as an operation: you train for it, you prepare, you execute it and then you come back and analyse what’s happened, what’s been good, what’s been bad.
“It’s been really beneficial for me in that sense and that’s how I’ve been approaching this whole last couple of months.”
Van Gass lost his left arm at the elbow in Afghanistan, as well as suffering a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured internal organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee, requiring 11 operations and intense rehabilitation.
He will represent his adopted nation in five events in the Japanese capital: the C1-3 kilo, C3 individual pursuit, C3 time trial, C1-3 road race and C1-5 mixed team sprint.
His prolonged journey towards a Paralympic debut began when he was settling back into civilian life amid the 2012 London Games.
“This has been a goal for me for a very long time,” said Van Gass, who became a triple world champion after winning the kilo, scratch and omnium events last year in Canada.
“I’ve been inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic Games that we hosted in London.
“I lived in London at the time. I was actually going through my resettlement from leaving the army and had all these questions in my head: Where do I go? What do I do? What job will I have?
“To then go to the Paralympics and the Olympics, watching these athletes perform to this incredible level and seeing how the public reacted to it, it kind of planted that seed, I wanted to be part of that, and that’s where my journey started.
“That’s more than eight years ago now and finally I can call myself a Paralympian and go to Tokyo and represent Great Britain once more, wearing that flag as I did in the military.
“It’s a great achievement that I’m very proud of, it’s been a long, hard journey. I hope it will be only one of many amazing moments in my life but this one is definitely up there.”