One of Australia’s Paralympic heroes has been left shattered after two of her “priceless” gold medals were stolen early on Wednesday morning.
Carol Cooke won both the women’s T1-2 road race and the 15km T1-2 road time trial in Rio de Janeiro last month.
The 55-year-old, who battles multiple sclerosis, also triumphed in the 15km T1-2 road time trial event at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
But her gold medal tally has been slashed from three to one after brazen thieves smashed into her car and stole a backpack at approximately 5.40am.
Cooke was training at the Victorian Institute of Sport in Albert Park at the time.
She was planning to show off her medals in a film with Monash University later on Wednesday.
“I’m just gutted that they’re gone. They’re priceless,” she told AAP.
“I share those medals with everybody I speak too, especially school kids.
“I’m not one of these athletes that puts them away. I take them with me and pass them round.”
Wallet, cards stolen too
Cooke, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 and has been in a wheelchair since 2001, said the thieves must have watched her lock her car.
“I had a backpack with some clothes because I was going to train after a ride at the gym,” she told ABC.
“I left my medals at the bottom of the backpack in the foot well of the car and covered it over with a black coat.
“[The thieves] must have been watching me because within a matter of 18 minutes … they just smashed the passenger window, reached in, didn’t even unlock the car and … took the backpack.
“I was actually alerted [about the theft of her wallet and cards] by Westpac.
“I got a text message from them saying someone tried to spend $1000 online using my debit card of all things, not my credit card.
“Within two hours of stealing the bag, they used the card by 6.29am at a local 7-Eleven three times to take out different amounts of money just using the pay pass.”
‘People can’t sell them’
Ms Cooke’s plight attracted widespread media attention on Wednesday, and it is hoped the coverage will ensure anyone trying to sell the medals will be handed to authorities.
Australia’s para-cyclist of the year does not believe it is possible her medals can be sold and urged the thieves to hand them in – even if that was all they returned.
“People can’t actually sell them,” Cooke said.
“Nobody will be able to sell them. I have a feeling they don’t even realise they were in the backpack underneath all the clothes.
“Just drop the backpack off – even in the Institute of Sport or a police station.”
Anyone with information regarding to Cooke’s medals are urged to contact Victoria Police or the Australian Paralympic team (firstname.lastname@example.org)