It was 2010 and Rheed McCracken was aboard a flight from Brisbane to Bundaberg when he noticed a familiar face sitting in the adjacent seat. It was Channel 7’s Sunrise host David Koch, and this chance meeting would be the catalyst to a marvelous sporting career.
While the 13-year-old Rheed was initially too shy to engage, eventually they spoke and Kochie asked who his hero was. Rheed confirmed it was the legendary Kurt Fearnley, and as chance would have it, Kochie was heading to Sydney a few days later having accepted a challenge from Kurt to race in a wheelchair in the famous 420m uphill, Balmoral Burn.
Kochie suggested Rheed come to Sydney and also race with the pair. He did, Kurt became a mentor, and three Paralympics and five Paralympic medals later, the rest as they say is sporting history.
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Rheed exceeded all expectations, returning home with silver in the 100m T34 and bronze in the 200m T34, four years later in Rio he defended his silver in the 100m T34 and won another bronze in the 800m T34, and then in the 2021 Tokyo Games, he won another a third straight silver in the 100m T34.
But Rheed isn’t the only one in his family with racing experience, albeit the other one is now enjoying a life of lavish luxury.
Early in 2021 Rheed who was in Newcastle, adopted Zyla from Greyhounds As Pets, and with his family based in Bundaberg, his girlfriend Ashleigh McConnell, a Paralympian swimmer, basing herself in Melbourne for her Games’ preparation, Zyla and Rheed became close friends.
“I found living away from home and your family while training can be challenging. Both myself and my partner had been thinking of getting a dog and had an interest in adopting,” Rheed explained. “When we looked into retired racing greyhounds, Zyla came up and we jumped at the chance to meet her. I remember the day, and just instantly loving her nature.
“She is always happy to see me, I take her for a walk and the last thing on my mind is thinking about a race. She’s such a good support animal,” Rheed said.
“I needed a dog that was good on the leash and didn’t pull a lot and was friendly around other dogs.
“To see her settle in and show all her quirks, and her smile has been the best thing we did, and I'm so thankful for GAP NSW for helping match us with Zyla and showing us the importance of giving these beautiful dogs a new home and life after racing.”