Even though another 6 months have passed since I last posted, I think it’s been worth it!

Since the last post, so much has happened – we’ve had the Invictus Games, the European Championships, the Anniversary Games and I now find myself in the final run-up to the Paralympics, and somehow my name has appeared on the team sheet!  Alongside all of this, as normal, I’ve still managed to make progress on my PhD.  The last couple years have definitely been an absolute whirlwind, and with just two weeks to go until the start of the Paralympics I thought I’d offer a little catch up!

I headed out to Florida a couple weeks early prior to the Invictus Games kicking off as it was a great opportunity to get some much needed warm weather training in early on in the outdoor season.  We were also treating this early part of the season as a small peak in performance so that I had the best chance to put some really good performances to my name way ahead of the Paralympic selection deadline in July.  Roger and I managed to get two full weeks of training in before joining the rest of the UK Armed Forces team at the Shades of Green resort where the entirety of the Invictus competitors were being accommodated.

Training in Florida

Training in Florida (Image: Roger Keller)

This second rotation of the Invictus Games was every bit a resounding success just as London was.  It was definitely delivered in an American style, with a whole lot more ceremony and spectacle, but that’s what made it so special and unique to its environment!  Being held in Disneyland was a definite bonus, and one of my highlights away from the competition was being able to watch the Epcot fireworks with my family and friends – seeing the wonder in Emily’s face was priceless!  In competition, inspiration was pouring out of every single competitor and it was so moving hearing the stories and how the Invictus spirit has been driving these incredible people to their own successes.  In my own competition, I was so nervous!  Invictus is such an important event for me and I certainly felt that I had some expectation to live up to from the London games.  Thank fully my preparations with both Roger and Sarah (sports psychologist), and telephone conversations with Tom (strength coach) had brought me to a really good place.  I had also been fortunate enough to spend some time with the wonderful Christina Ohuruogu whilst out in Florida, and on race day I managed to get myself into my own private, calm little world from which I delivered a very good new personal best of 25.04.  I was absolutely ecstatic!  I knew that I was in a really good place, and it was exactly where we had planned to be, but it was such a relief to see all the planning, training and preparation had paid off.  Unfortunately, I had to cut short my time with the rest of the team as I had another competition to take part in in Arizona, which meant I only had one day with the rest of the team and for watching the competition.  I even had to miss the closing ceremony!  However, from a performance point of view it was worth it, as I got even quicker.  At the Desert Challenge Games I managed to clock another new personal best of 24.71, which was the icing on the cake to a fantastic trip of training and competition.  There really was no rest for the wicked though, the European Championships were coming up fast.

My Invictus Support Team

My Invictus Support Team

The Europeans were held in Italy this year, and took place just three weeks after I returned from the USA, so it gave very little time to turn things around.  My preparations going into this competition were definitely not as good as they could be, with illness, toothache (of all things!) creating havoc with my best laid plans.  However, everything was back to normal with a week and a half to go until the championships and was back in a really good training frame.  The Europeans were my second shot at GB Athletics representation and I was so keen to improve on my not-so-successful attempts at the World Championships last October.  Thankfully, this time I had everything in order – my confidence and race preparation out in Italy were better than they’d ever been.  I started this competition with the 100m and set out with the aim of making it through to the final – this has always been my weaker event as the acceleration phase as a double amputee takes so long to get right.  Thankfully, I made it and managed to set a new PB in the semi and again in the final of 13.07.  Not bad and still loads to improve.  The 200m was a straight final as we’d had some athletes drop out through injury.  In this race (it was a very windy day) I knew there was very little chance of me setting a good time, so the aim was just to execute the race plan and fight hard for position on the home straight, which was exactly how it turned out and I managed to bag my first international medal – European Silver Medallist!

Emily was definitely more interested in her food than my race! (Image: Roger Keller)

Emily was definitely more interested in her food than my race! (Image: Roger Keller)

After the Europeans there was another four weeks before the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium.  Although a relatively small competition compared to the Paralympics, it gets a lot of media attention in the UK and was an important event to showcase what I can do on home soil.  Having had such a great season behind me, I went into this race full of confidence, even if I couldn’t afford any time away from training to rest and prepare as I would do for a championships.  Arriving into the Stadium as the first race was such an incredible feeling.  The crowds that come to the Anniversary Games give amazing support to all the athletes but they always show such great support to the home competitors and I was no exception.  I was so happy and proud to be there competing that day, and ran the third quickest time I’ve ever ran (25.05), which was outstanding for where I was in my training period.

After the Anniversary Games, it was the long wait to see whether I had been selected to represent GB at the Paralympic Games.  The selection meeting was taking place on the 25 July and I know how talented the athletes are within the British Athletics set-up and I know our allocated athlete numbers were reduced from those taken to London, so I was agonising over whether I’d done enough to make it.  Thankfully, the phone call came through and my name was on the sheet – I’m going to Rio!  The last few weeks have been about polishing and fine tuning, getting every thing firing as fast and powerful as possible ready to peak in Rio when I need to.  The times I’m running in training are better than they’ve ever been, and I’ve now got enough experience to translate these onto the track.  I’m so excited to see what we can deliver in Brazil!

Training is intense in the final run-up

Training is intense in the final run-up

Just a couple of years ago, after the first Invictus Games in London, I decided to have a crack, give it everything in the run up to Rio and I thought then that there might just be an outside chance that I could make the team.  At that point in time, I was only training a few times a week when my studies allowed, and was still sneaking in a cigarette when I thought my wife wasn’t looking.  I knew if I was going to have anywhere near a shot I had to give it all the time I had available and go for it properly.  The 2015 season was all about learning and understanding – not only was I new to sprinting, I was new to blade running and new to athletics, everything came on such a steep learning curve.  Neither myself or my coaches were experienced in amputee sports so everything we were doing was new and had to be learned.  The Help for Heroes Academy and the British Athletics Parallel Success Academy schemes were so vital in providing the support and education that we so badly needed, and experiences like the World Championships last year really helped us to develop as a team.  Now, I look back to that goal from two years ago and not only have I achieved the aim of going to compete in Rio, I go in with a high likelihood of podium success.  I think this is a real testament to what can be achieved to application and dedication, not just from me but from the team around me – they are the best!  I know that perhaps if I wasn’t doing a PhD I might have progressed at a slightly faster race, and if I’d have moved to one of the athletics high performance centres in Loughborough or Lee Valley or Bath that maybe my education would also have been swifter.  But this was what I wanted.  My PhD is so important to me and I live where I do for a reason, I didn’t want to uproot my family or my family life.  Hayley and Emily, mum, dad and my brothers and sister and my friends are my biggest support network and always have been.  I think we’ve done quite well with all things considered!  Bring on the competition!

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