The Rio Paralympic Games has now come to an end. The British team returned back to the UK to a hero’s welcome after winning the third biggest medal haul in British Paralympic history and smashing UKSport medal targets. Rio 2016 exceeded expectations in so many ways and on a personal level it is an experience, which will stay with me forever.
Twelve weeks ago I did not think I would be going to the Paralympic Games as I failed to make the criteria for outright selection. However, I was given a bipartite invitation to race and from that moment I decided to fully enjoy and appreciate every moment. Everyone saw the negative media before the Games about lack of ticket sales, cost cuts, security concerns but the reality was very different.
Key memories include:
- Crowds of enthusiastic supporters in the sold-out triathlon grandstand, along the whole length of the triathlon bike and run course. Such support has been unheard of in previous paratriathlon events and the atmosphere every time we rode and ran through transition definitely made me work that little bit harder.
- Watching my teammate and good friend, Andy Lewis, become the first British Paralympic Champion in triathlon was particularly special.
- Entering a sports hall at a school the paratriathlon team visited and being welcomed by hundreds of excited, cheering school children; certainly the closest I will ever come to experiencing what it feels like to be a celebrity. 😉
- Being in the audience of the Last Leg with the rest of the paratriathlon team, a fantastic Channel 4 programme, which positively portrays both para-sport and disability in general.
- The electric atmosphere in the pool whenever a Brazilian was racing, which went up a notch if a medal was won and higher again when Daniel Dias won gold.
Such memories were created as a result of the enthusiasm and passion the people of Rio brought to the Paralympic Games. Obrigada Rio!
However, I struggled a little the day or so after my race, after entering the Paralympic Village. The British team were performing and exceeding expectations. It was almost impossible to keep up with all the medals won across all sports. It was ‘the greatest team’ and yet I was a little sad that I had been unable to contribute personally to the medal table and the team’s success. Despite having given my all on the day I was left disappointed with my race.
From the moment I found out I was awarded a bipartite invitation to race, I did absolutely everything I possibly could to be in the best possible shape on race day. Across all three disciplines my speed, strength and endurance improved to some of the best levels I have seen. I knew what I needed to do and I had the full support of all coaches and practitioners in the World Class Programme. With the help of Sally at fitnaturally, I nailed my nutrition to reach optimal body composition whilst staying healthy, during a period of pretty tough training sessions.
Upon arriving at the ParalympicsGB holding camp in Belo Horizonte we had absolutely everything we could possibly want to make our final preparations as easy as possible. The training facilities were stunning and included a new 50m indoor pool, fully-equipped gym, track, access to a closed road circuit for cycling and a support team, which did everything they could to make our lives as simple as possible. There was a good vibe in the camp which only grew as we moved to Rio and the paratriathlon team set up base in a hotel on Copacabana Beach, overlooking the triathlon race course. In short, my preparation was perfect and mentally I was in a great place, soaking up the atmosphere of the Games.
Seventh is the lowest position I have ever finished in a paratriathlon race. Not a statement I want to be saying about the Paralympic Games. There are explanations I can give but, in short, athletes 15-20 years younger than me are coming through, the sport has moved on in the past twelve months and I have not been able to move forward with it this time. As an objective supporter of the sport this is exactly what should be happening and demonstrates that there is an exciting future ahead for paratriathlon. On a personal level I wish the Paralympic Games had come a year or two earlier. However, I have no regrets and I can look back with pride on my results of the past seven years and my contribution to the development and progress of the PT4 women’s category; it just might take me a little more time to fully appreciate that. 😉
For the past fifteen months, the majority of the British squad has been training together in Loughborough, which has resulted in us becoming closer. Several of those friendships became stronger in Rio and those people pulled me through the days when I was feeling a little blue after the race and helped me to keep appreciating being at the Games. We had so much fun in the week after the race – thank you guys!
Former swimming teammates asked me whilst in Rio whether racing there had helped me banish the memories of Atlanta, which was a very disappointing Paralympic Games for me. Honestly, competing in Rio was never about that. I took up triathlon and specifically paratriathlon, before it even became a Paralympic sport because I loved the sport and wanted to see what I could achieve. It was only in the past four years that Rio became the specific goal as the World Class Programme developed in the UK with the support of UKSport and the National Lottery and I had the privilege to be supported as part of that programme. It still feels surreal to think that I returned to the Paralympic Games 20 years after my last Games. It just proves what is possible if we take up opportunities, follow our dreams and work hard.
It has been one hell of a rollercoaster the past few years and would not have been possible without the support of my family and friends, who have had to put up with my highs and lows; my coaches past and present; all the staff on the paratriathlon World Class programme; my sponsors (Zone3 wetsuits, Dassi bikes, Pace Rehabilitation, Skechers Performance, fitnaturally). If I try to name everyone I will omit someone and inadvertently cause offence and so I simply say many, many thanks to you all – you all know who you are.