Tuesday, 9 October 2012

My Olympic "Leg"acy

This is not a normal Monday morning. I am sitting in a logo'd "team GB" race canoe and I'm using an uber bling carbon fibre paddle to splash my way furiously up the 200m sprint course at the National waters sports centre. ....

The Velodrome at 2012 Olympics
Working at the Olympics had been an amazing experience, but not for any of the reasons I could have predicted. A chance meeting and a casual conversation in a cafe with a random fellow gamesmaker turned into an invitation for me to try out for the GB squad para canoe team.


All gamesmakers have a real life job, and his job was GB paracanoe coach. In between sips of coffee he was explaining that he was searching for suitable athletes to train for Rio 2016
"you can have me if you like" I said
This was meant as a joke but his coffee was soon forgotten as I received a fast and furious Q and A session about my back injury, my weak leg and my bike racing history.

He left me feeling slightly giddy with a date in my diary to be assessed for suitability to join the team.  In the time it had taken to eat half a muffin I had gone from frustrated endurance cyclist with a dodgy leg to a possible GB para sprint canoeist. 

I was trialling for team GB in a sport which I had never done- did I mention that bit?- I've never actually been in a canoe.

I arrived at the water sports centre and met the gamesmaker who was now wearing his team GB coach polo shirt looking very official. He was talking to the other athletes and suddenly I felt like I was in the wrong place. They were all in wheelchairs and I couldn't help wondering What the hell was I doing here? My legs 'work' and I can't canoe!! 

GB paracanoe bay 
It was explained that there is a spectrum of disability classification for each sport and I am at one end, having reduced use of my leg, whereas they are at the other end having use of just arms. 

First things first-to learn how to 'paddle'. I had a swift half hour session on the ergo (dry land canoe) - I had no idea how complicated it all was.  "right, let's see what you can do. "

As an endurance cyclist I'm all slow twitch with weedy arms so a 200 meter sprint  at full pelt on the ergo put me into a whole new world of pain. 
Despite my time putting me 17th in the world for my category which I was actually ok with, it was a 'disappointing' time. In order to make the team I would have to be within sniffing distance of a medal on the world stage!

Race Lake at Holme Pierepont 
Then moment I had been dreading- actually getting onto the water. 

 The other athletes had made it look so easy! I scramble into the boat and wobble. One girl says "you will fall in - we all do in the beginning" ....thanks:-) 

I start off down the lake and massive a smile spreads across my face, I  work!! My arms, unlike my legs are equal and for the first time since my accident I don't have to struggle or concentrate on walking. I feel free, I feel like I'm flying!  whoaah! Plop!

It was 7 weeks ago that I was given the challenge by the GB coach to turn myself from slow twitch sloth into a fast twitch cannon with guns of steel. I was told that I had to drop a considerable number of seconds to be any where near the selection criteria.

 So much has happened in the last 7 weeks. I have been training, paddling, working and sleeping and not much else. I have open blisters on my hands, aching shoulders and quite scary looking biceps. I have learnt the difference between a Kayak and a canoe and stopped mixing up the words paddling and peddling!

This weekend is crunch time. I have a total of about 2 minutes racing time and a medical to determine my path for the next 4 years, and whether Im going to be paddling towards Rio.

Nervous? Me? hell yes! 

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