What Goes into Paralympic Year Stays in …. Nah I’ll tell you anyway

If you’ve got enough time or more importantly interest, I’ll give you an insight into my most recent Paralympic adventure.

It’s been a little while since the Rio Paralympics took place, I’ve been back in training for over 3 months now, having had 5 weeks off after returning from Brazil last September.¬†5 weeks where I spent lots of time with friends and family, re-toxing my body with alcohol and bad (or good whichever way you look at it) food. The closest I came to the gym or physical exercise in this time was going to the spa, and as Alan Partridge would say – I drank a lot of beer cos I’m a bloody bloke. I managed to put on about half a stone in weight which is huge for me with my metabolism and type of Cerebral Palsy, I probably burn more calories putting my socks on in the morning than most people burn in a 30 minute HIIT session. Athetoid CP has its perks I guess.

It’s important to take some time after major milestones, to celebrate (or grieve), regroup and recharge the motivation bank, I certainly did that.

Last year was a bit blurry as most of my years tend to be having spent pretty much the last 20 as a professional athlete. When March comes, I almost always feel like a king, and last year this was certainly the case. I’d done my best winter since my hip surgery in 2012, spurred by the knowledge that it was Paralympic year, this could be my last chance to compete at a Paralympics and also the pain of finishing 4th with a limp performance at the IPC World Championships in Doha late 2015.

I’d hit all my training goals and KPIs during the winter, so was mega confident as my winter hibernation ended and I began venturing outdoors to throw the stick – again this is not uncommon procedure for me. Last year I had a new frame made, we decided with all good reasoning that this was the best course of action to overcome the problems encountered in Doha – I nearly didn’t get into the competition because officials said my chair was illegal, thankfully nothing 2 rolls of gaffer tape couldn’t fix.

We didn’t want this stress again so had a new frame designed and made very quickly and efficiently by the guys at Barrington Metal Works in Bedlington – who I’m forever grateful too for putting up with my demanding nature when it comes to my sport.

We tried so hard with this new frame. I started throwing earlier than ever in early February, I did hundreds, probably thousands of drills in the frame – it was a very different position for me. I have such a naturally positive attitude that I convinced myself and my coach that it would work.

We took it to Dubai in the March – this IPC Grand Prix has been my regular season opener since 2014, I always go there hoping to throw well but never do as I arrive having done little technical work, but we know when I need to throw well. Despite the fact I never throw well in Dubai, last year I REALLY didn’t throw well, managing one throw just over 27 metres and getting a drubbing in the IPC Grand Prix, coming 5th. Not the best start to Paralympic¬†season.

We persevered though and spent a whole week down in Loughborough in a hotel closely resembling faulty towers, working with my mentor Ray Knight on my technique in the new frame. From Loughborough I proceeded straight down to Kingston to my first domestic competition where I threw 23.88 metres, my worst result for about 17 years, I had the throwing yips worse than ever before.

It was a hammer blow, I think I phoned my wife and said I was finished, or words to that effect. It was a tough one to come back from, the only thing to come from that week is that I passed my chest infection on to Ray – sorry Ray.

Mam and I had one more session after that in the new frame. Then she dusted off good old yellow – my old frame that I’ve had since Sydney 2000 – She made the decision for me, I was too committed to my blind positive belief in the new frame. It’s why we work so well, she can see when a change needs to be made and when I’m being too tunnel visioned. I’ve always said you can’t achieve anything alone, and I very much doubt I would’ve been in Rio had that crucial decision not been made just a few months prior.

It wasn’t easy transitioning to my old frame but we had a breakthrough in my first competition using it, I managed to get one throw out to 29.70 metres, and that gave us the confidence to go on. The progression was astounding – I improved in almost every competition throughout the season, just had one little dip around the time I was awarded my MBE (few celebratory drinks methinks), but other than that it was up and up.

Great coaching effort from my mam with support from Ray. It is down to having clarity of thought and the trust to make decisions when they need to be made – mainly decisions come down to: continuing to do what you’re doing, or to change and do something different. Last year reinforced more than ever that we always have choices in everything we do in life, and we can change at any time. There is never a perfect time to start or stop something, so if something isn’t working and making you unhappy, change it.

Winning bronze in the IPC European Championships in June was a great confidence boost, largely down to the fact it was a strong field and I was actually ranked 5th going into the comp. I also beat some of the guys that beat me in Dubai. It helped me mentally a lot.

Even with that result I felt I still had a bit to do to justify my place in the team for Rio, such is my mentality when it comes to selection. I improved my season best to 31.68 metres to be ranked 5th in the world – still the selection day was one of the longest days of my life. However I finally got a phone call and I could then eat food.

It is a brilliant feeling being selected in a team for a major event, I’ve had that phone call dozens of times now but it doesn’t get any less sweeter.

It was a strange Olympics to watch on TV and with all the negative media around the games I tried to switch off from it as much as I could. Still I managed to record all the athletics sessions and watch them back in about half an hour each morning.

My build up to Rio was good and I really enjoyed the forward camp in Belo Horizonte. It was definitely the most calm and relaxed I’ve been in the build up to a major comp for some years. I think that was because I was totally happy with the work I’d done and I was comfortable with the specific goals I’d set myself. I was positive I would do a good performance and was sure I would enjoy the experience.

I did have a pretty big scare just a few days before my competition, my back went. It was random, I just got out of bed, got dressed and felt it go. I don’t know if it was a spasm or something else but I couldn’t stand or sit straight and could hardly throw at all. It was pretty worrying but I stayed calm, got physio everyday and pretty much spent all my time either on my foam roller, stretching or in the sauna. I had 5 days in it improved everyday, on the day I was at about 95%, a ton of Voltarol gel and deep heat expertly rubbed in by Rob the doc got me to near enough 100%.

Winning bronze with 31.93 metres in Rio has to go down as one of my best achievements and performances. To come from where I started the season and with the crazy strength and depth of the F31/32 Men’s Club Throw. Sure the Russians got banned (correct and fair decision), and some athletes missed the call room, but that was all out of my control and you always need some luck for any success. I was immensely proud of the performance and everything that went into it.

It’s a funny life being an athlete, constantly walking a tightrope between feeling like you’re king of the world or lowest of the low, constantly managing your emotions trying to stay in the moment, not getting too carried away when the going’s good, or too down when things aren’t going well.

What goes into a Paralympic medal or a Paralympic performance for that matter?

  • Thousands of training sessions.
  • Fending off millions of doubts and fears whilst not getting too carried away with optimism.
  • Tons of stress and anxiety.
  • Hundreds of eureka moments
  • Daily diary ramblings to keep you sane.
  • Many Arguments (always constructive) with others and yourself.
  • Thousands of miles travelling.
  • Regular pain/suffering/struggling.
  • Lots of fun and laughter.
  • Hell of a lot of learning.

It’s all worth it though for the satisfaction gained from pushing your boundaries and achieving something that seemed impossible.

Rio Competition Playlist:

A Thousand Years – Christina Perri
99.9 Percent – Jeru the Damaja
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe – Kendrick Lamar
Pretty Green – The Jam
In The End – Linkin Park
The MC – KRS One
Dancing On My Own – Calum Scott
All Cried Out – Blonde
Prison Song – System of a Down
Someone Like You – Christiane Noll
Iris – The Goo Goo Dolls
Skylined – The Prodigy
Claustrophobic Sting – The Prodigy
Big Love – Pete Heller
Swimming Pools – Kendrick Lamar
Temple – Kings of Leon
Rock Star – N.E.R.D
Bored to Death – Blink 182
The Party – Joe Stone