• Alistair Donohoe on the track (Margaret Francis )Source: Margaret Francis
Alistair Donohoe is a pretty impressive 20-something Brunswick hipster, as Margaret Francis discovered.
Margaret Francis

Cycling Central
5 Nov 2019 - 12:14 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2019 - 12:56 PM

Donohoe riding high after Herald Sun Tour performance
The Jayco Herald Sun Tour is an opportunity for the spotlight to shine on riders that have never competed at a higher level. Such was the case with Australian Paralympian Alistair Donohoe (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) who shone in the breakaway in each of the final two stages.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Alistair Donohoe looks exactly the part of the Melbourne hipster.

Cycling spandex donned, dark blonde hair cut into a mullet to rival the best 80s tribute band and moustache to boot, he's easily camouflaged amongst the general Brunswick population.

A cursory Google of his name will give you the basic details on Donohoe and his career. The 24-year-old from Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory is seven times world Para-Cycling champion, two times Paralympic silver medallist in Rio 2016 and, most recently, gold medal winner in the Men’s Time Trial C5 at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in the Netherlands.

By all accounts, he’s a pretty impressive 20-something. In fact, his coach Nick Owen says he’s “the best Para-cyclist in the world."

But any pre-conceived ideas about Donohoe's ego fly out the window once observing him talk to anyone. A genuine smile and no air of self-importance follow him wherever he goes, including the local coffee shop. A self-professed coffee addict, it’s no surprise he’s struck up a good friendship with the baristas, greeting them like old friends with smiles and handshakes all around.

Back in Australia for a couple of weeks post worlds and Donohoe is already itching to return overseas for the next competition, something he cites as potentially one of his biggest personal weaknesses. A sporadic job requiring a lot of travel means maintaining relationships is difficult, especially with a work ethic like his.

But he is working hard to try and switch off from cycling.

“Cycling can be an all-consuming sport, but it doesn’t have to be," he said. 

Both Donohoe and Owen are in agreement over this. The thing that initially sets him apart from the crowd and made him a great cyclist, now hinders further progress. Cycling is both physically and mentally draining. 

“There are parts of the year where it’s really hard to be a normal person,” he notes. With stringent diet plans and tactical training schedules, it’s hard to switch off even during a social family dinner.

Every-day activities like walking the dog are carefully considered; more time on his feet means Donohoe is more tired and less productive in training the next day.

Despite its cons, “when I’m sitting there [at] some lake’s edge in Italy, this is pretty amazing that I can call this work." 

Donohoe's progression into elite cycling was arguably inevitable.

“I did everything under the sun when I was a kid – athletics, gymnastics, rugby [but] settled into triathlon through my parents." 

But cycling drew him in and he participated in all its forms, including BMX and mountain biking, turning his focus to the velodrome and the road when he was much older.

His perseverance was clear from a young age, despite suffering a major injury to his right arm, ripping through 90 per cent of his right triceps and 70 per cent of his right bicep – causing major radial nerve damage – at age 14.

Donohoe's nerves repatterned themselves as he grew and the lack of movement in his hand was no barrier to living an active teenage life. And nothing could stop his love for cycling. 

“I was back mucking around with my friends and sneaking out and whatnot even when I still had no movement and was wearing a wrist brace.

“It’s just an injury. As soon as my hand started working again, I was back on the bike."

Outside of cycling, helping people is one of Donohoe's biggest passions, a testament to his upbringing.

Donohoe talks about his mother with evident admiration and love. She is his biggest inspiration.

After the death of his father through a freak electrocution when he was 11, his mum “pretty much single-handedly raised five kids." 

CEO of a not-for-profit organisation, a rooming house for disadvantaged people; if he ends up half as good as his mother is, Donhoe says, he'll be happy.

The loss of his father also left him with an incredible drive for cycling - it was how he dealt with the grief. 

“I probably didn’t understand the significance of it at 11." A lot of processing happened on the bike, driving him to the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

“Putting on green and gold colours is a pretty exceptional feeling."

Donohoe's experience in Rio was all at once incredible and overwhelming for a 21-year-old. One of his closest friends, someone he says got him into Para-cycling, tested positive for drugs once they arrived at the Olympic Village, leaving Donohoe dumbfounded and lost throughout the games.

He says this was where he really processed his father’s death. Now though, rather than grief, "it's a joy of my dad that’s probably driving me forward (to Tokyo)."

Donohoe buzzes with excitement at the prospect of yet another Paralympics. Come January, it’s pretty much all-in for training camps and then straight to Tokyo.

Of course he’s gunning for gold, but even if he is to win, the medal isn’t for him, it’s all about what he can do for others.

“The most important thing to me is, what do I do with the results I get? If I win at Tokyo, how can I use that in a positive way? How can I use that to help people?”