When Anna Meares completed one of the greatest comebacks in Australian Olympic history at Beijing in 2008, an aspiring young athlete from her hometown was watching in awe.

A determined Meares won silver on the velodrome months after a horrific accident that almost left the cyclist a quadriplegic.

Sixteen years later and Australia’s top-ranked men’s trampoline gymnast, Blake Rutherford, is again drawing inspiration from the Olympic legend.

A man wearing a green and gold sporting team tracksuit.

Rutherford earned a spot on the Olympic team but won’t be competing in Paris.(Supplied)

In a little more than 60 days, Rutherford should be off to Paris for his first Olympic Games.

Instead, the 27-year-old is lucky to be alive and able to walk after a freak training accident.

“I was doing a skill that I’ve done since I was 15 and I just got lost [in the air],” he said.

“I jump higher than most average athletes when it comes to trampoline, so I came down from about 8.5 metres and straight onto my neck.”

A male trampoline gymnast in the air.

The Queensland-based athlete has been flying high for his country for a number of years.(Supplied)

Rutherford suffered fractures to his C5 and C6 vertebrae and compression to the disc between the C6 and C7 bones in his neck.

“The injury meant there was a risk of compromising the spinal column, so I was operated on to remove the bulging disc and replace it with a cage,” he said.

Doctors have told him it will be at least three months before he can return to any form of training.

A man in a suit and a man wearing a tracksuit and cap in a neck brace holding an award.

Rutherford is still in a neck brace but is keeping positive.(Supplied)

Rutherford received news he had earned a spot on the Australian Olympic team just days after the accident.

“It was crushing, absolutely crushing,” he said.

“I started this sport when I was just two years old growing up in Rockhampton, and I knew at 13 that I wanted to make the Olympic Games.”

Bouncing back

The Queensland-based trampolinist is still in a neck brace and his vocal cords have been affected post-surgery.

A male trampoline gymnast high fives his coach after a routine.

Rutherford and Australian trampoline team coach Jarrod Heriot in happier times.(Supplied)

“My voice is a cross between Bane and Batman and it will be a little while before I am able to enjoy a good steak,” he said.

Rutherford, who was a reserve for the Tokyo Olympics, said support from his family, partner and coach had helped get him back into a good headspace.

“The support also from the entire trampoline and gymnastics community has been amazing.

 “It has helped keep my mind busy with obviously everything that’s going on, so I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Anna Meares sits facing the right side of the photo with a neck brace on.

Anna Meares fractured her neck just months out from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.(Australian Story)

Rutherford has also received support from Meares, herself a central Queensland sporting product.

“It’s really hard to make the Australian Olympic team and there is so much that has to go your way and so much out of your control,” Meares said.

“One of the biggest challenges for athletes is injury and keeping their bodies in tip-top shape.

“So when your heart and your hopes are crushed like that, for Blake to be able to have the composure to be able to see with perspective is pretty remarkable.”

Anna Meares stands with the Australian flag after being announced as flagbearer

Anna Meares will be Australia’s chef de mission in Paris.(ABC News: Helen Brown)

‘I can hold my head high’

Meares collected six medals during her four Olympic Games and will head to Paris in July as the Australian team’s chef de mission.

The retired track cycling champion said she had ridden the highs and lows of sport.

She could have easily ended her career before Beijing but said those closest to her gave her the inspiration she needed to carry on.

“It’s a great metaphor for life, isn’t it?

Anna Meares win the Olympic sprint gold

Meares’s sprint gold at the 2012 London Games was her most famous victory.(Reuters: Stefano Rellandini)

“It’s in those low moments where you feel like your ears are ringing and you’re in a daze and you don’t know which way’s up and you can’t see perspective, let alone two feet in front of you — you really rely heavily on the people around you.

“Especially for athletes that feel and are perceived as being individual athletes, there is a huge network of people, from family, friends and community to support staff in their corner.”

Anna Meares sheds a tear on the podium at the London 2012 Olympic Games after winning gold.

Meares’s road to gold was an emotional rollercoaster.(ABC News: Karen Barlow)

While time heals all wounds, Rutherford said he was not looking too far ahead and was finding solace from others, including Meares.

“There’s been people in multiple sports with injuries that have come back from injury to produce amazing results,” he said.

“Anna Meares is one of those inspiring people that has done it and what she was able to achieve after her accident was absolutely impressive.”

Three male gymnasts at a competition in their Australian outfits.

Rutherford (left) has represented Australia at several international competitions.(Supplied)

Despite the heartbreak, Rutherford said he would be proudly cheering on the green and gold in Paris, albeit from home.

“I can proudly say even if I don’t get to go to the Games at any point in my life that I achieved the goal of making a spot for Australia at the Olympic Games, and if that’s the end of it, that’s enough to me.

A male gymnast with his coach during a competition.

Rutherford shares a special bond with trampoline team coach Jarrod Heriot.(Supplied)

“Three years ago I set out to give absolutely everything to qualify for the Olympic Games and I achieved my result, I just don’t get the reward.

“But to be able to produce Australia the spot at the Olympic Games for trampoline, and to be able to say that’s on the back of my hard work and my dedication … I can hold my head high.”

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