What amazed Steve Trew most about the paralympians was how they just got on with it.
Back in the summer I spent a couple of weeks commentating on the athletics at the London Paralympic Games, and the first two weeks of August commentating on the Olympic Games. I’m a lucky guy! But working at the Paralympics has made me realise just how lucky I am. Why? Because an accident of birth, of occupation, one moment can change your life forever.
Do you think the athletes we’ve been watching at the Paralympics chose their lives? Those soldiers out in Iraq or Afghanistan who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when a landmine detonated; the cyclist who was on the wrong road when the car driver swerved; the baby who was born different?
I watched the men’s T42-46 4x100m relay, and cried when I saw the USA team dance down the track afterwards – four fit men, with just three legs between them. I cried again when I saw the Brazilian athlete who ran the anchor leg in the same race wave to the crowd – he waved with his arms because he didn’t have any hands.
At the pool, I cried again when I saw one of the swimmers in the 100m backstroke get a sub-75-second time. He had no arms at all. Can you beat that time? His technique was extraordinary: he started the race by holding a cloth attached to the start block with his teeth, before releasing and hurling himself upwards and backwards into the pool.
Where do these para-athletes find the guts, the pure determination to not just get on with their lives, but to challenge themselves in the way that they do? Just thinking about what’s required for them to prepare for training, let alone competition, blows my mind… Strapping on your legs; getting changed without the use of your arms; moving from your ‘ordinary’ wheelchair into your ‘racing’ chair. Over and over and over again. They have to cope with all that while I complain because my swimming squad session starts at 6am. Poor me, how tough it is to get up at 5:30am! At least I have two arms and legs.
The unspoken fear
It’s not politically correct to say ‘disabled’ – we should say ‘athletes with a disability (AWAD)’, or ‘differently abled’. And yet, my friends who happen to be disabled athletes couldn’t care less what term is used because they’re too busy getting on with their training. We watch and are moved by their achievements, and part of the reason we’re so moved is that we fear being disabled, and fear that if we were disabled we couldn’t cope with it. We keep this fear locked deep inside because we don’t dare admit to having it.
I’ve written before about one of my best friends, Paula Craig. The same Paula Craig who won the AWAD Triathlon World Championship; the same Paula Craig who, to my knowledge, is the only athlete to have not only run but also ‘pushed’ the London Marathon (the term wheelchair racers use); the same Paula Craig who is in a wheelchair for the rest of her life because of a cycling accident.
Do you know what Paula said to a group of us when we voiced our fears about being unable to cope if the same thing happened to us? She said: “Yes you could. And you would, because you have to.” To which our response was to avoid each other’s gaze and look down at our feet, because we still weren’t sure that we could. Then she added, “I did, because I had to.”
The only thing holding you back is you
The point is that whoever you are and whatever you choose to do, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re a physically fit and healthy triathlete, then you are privileged. After all, your body is for life – it’s the only thing you truly own and are guaranteed to keep for life. So use it and use it well, and don’t dare make excuses.
Your arms are aching? So what; you have arms. You don’t feel that your leg kick is strong enough in the pool? Well train some more and make it stronger, because you can. Your bike set-up doesn’t feel quite right? Tell that to the athlete who cycled at the Paralympics with one arm and one leg. His bike set-up doesn’t feel ‘quite right’ either – but he just gets on with it.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: carpe diem. Seize every single day, and remember just how lucky you really are.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more blogs from the likes of Steve, Phil Graves and the Triathlon Plus team in triradar.com’s blogs section