JEDDAH: French paraplegic sportsman Axel Alletru has beaten all the odds to fulfill his ambition of taking part in the grueling Dakar Rally.
The former motocross champion has been competing in the world-famous desert race being staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
And just being able to pit his wits against some of motor-racing’s top drivers has felt like victory for determined Alletru.
At 20 years old, he had a highly promising career ahead of him in motocross until a severe accident in the 2010 Latvian grand prix left him paralyzed. But Alletru refused to give up.
After undergoing a series of operations, he lost 80 percent of his leg muscles and sensitivity, changing his life but not his passion for the sport.
His focus turned to swimming, which led to participation in the 2016 Paralympics, and a haul of six gold medals at the French disabled swimming championships.
In 2018, encouraged by his successes, Alletru set himself a new challenge of taking part in the 2020 Dakar Rally.
“To fulfill a dream, it is very important to focus on one goal,” Alletru told Arab News on the last leg of the race. “By embarking on this great project, my first goal was to finish the Dakar Rally and show that despite my handicap I could ride with the able-bodied and finish like them in this international race.
“That’s what I talk about at lectures and conferences; behind the impossible there is always hiding a possible that we can go looking for. This is really what I try to demonstrate and bring to life in my community and all the people who follow me.”
As he spoke, Alletru was holding seventh place in the general classification of SSV (side-by-side vehicle) and first in the T3S category.
“I’m crossing my fingers to finish this rally and if I finish in the top five that would be even better, so that I could be spotted by a team and get started more professionally in this beautiful sport,” he added.
Alletru warmed up for Dakar by participating in the Rally of Morocco 2019 where he was able to confirm to Dakar Rally authorities that he was fit to race despite his handicap.
His experience in north Africa helped him in choosing the right vehicle (a Can-Am) for Dakar and understand the logistics around his disability and his team, Je Peux 2020. It was his team, along with Talent Digital founder Riad Kacim, that drove the Frenchman on to realizing his dream.
“It allowed me to test my physical limits, vis-a-vis my handicap, simple things. When you have a handicap like mine, it is very important to know how to take a shower in the middle of the desert, my needs during a full race, how to preserve my health and hygiene, because as a paraplegic my immunity decreases and I am twice as fragile as an able-bodied person,” he said.
Rocky terrain over the first part of the rally resulted in Alletru getting three punctures and the stage took him three-times longer to complete than other competitors.
“Morocco was of great help to me because I was able to prepare myself physically, but above all mentally, to face all these difficulties,” he added.
On his experience of Saudi Arabia, Alletru said: “The people are very welcoming, always with a smile. I have been very happy to discover this country with my own eyes and make my own judgment. The natural landscapes are wonderful, and I hope it will be the first of many visits.”