4:45am: (Beep, Beep, Beep…) The never-ending, dreaded sound of the alarm in the morning. Except it doesn’t feel like morning when it’s pitch black, and trust me, this was no ordinary day. Today was my first ever paralympic trial, and I had no idea what to expect. Not a Scooby.
I applied for the Paralympic Talent Scheme back in September, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, watching Team GB earn their highest medal haul in history and thought to myself, ‘why not?’ thinking nothing of it at the time. Yet, three weeks later, not one, but three emails confirming my place for the trials made their way into my inbox if I wanted it them, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to turn down that kind of experience.
However, when I signed up, I was expecting a regional event somewhere fairly local where I’d get to try out a few different sports, meet a few people who may actually make it to Tokyo in 2020 for the GB Squad and I could finally put my sports journalism skills to good use. No. Couldn’t be more wrong if I tried. Instead, I’d be given a 10-12pm session slot half way up the country in Manchester – ridiculously early start it is then…
Whilst I may have been the one getting all hot and sweaty with the gruelling drills, I managed to avoid the four-hour drive each way (thankfully, because I would have fallen asleep at the wheel more times than Garfield says he hates Mondays): That job fell to my fabulously supportive boyfriend – I wouldn’t have been capable of doing half of what I did today without him… or allowing me to kip in the car.
I had no idea what I was walking into or how to react when I arrived at the Etihad Stadium today. I met and spoke to The Last Leg’s Adam Hills (famous for his Paralympic coverage) last weekend, and asked him what to do when being in a room full of ‘disabled’ people. He came back with the best response: “Everyone you’ll meet will be in exactly the same situation as you – no-one knows how to react cause you don’t really round up disabled people often! I had no clue what to do the first time, just be yourself and enjoy the experience.”
He couldn’t have been more right. Most of us were completely new to trials and had been inspired by Team GB; it didn’t matter what we did today, the main aim was to get the most out of the experience and meet people with similar disabilities.
It’s probably time for a bit of context. I am a mild right hemiplegic suffering with Cerebral Palsy. I say suffering – it’s not remotely obvious to the naked eye and I don’t class myself as disabled (I can do pretty much everything… except do buttons up with my right hand…) because I had so much physiotherapy as a baby. But I was unbelievably lucky, I was caught at six weeks old. Most people with CP -including many that I met today – weren’t diagnosed until 18 months, even later.
So I turned my hand to sport, mainly gymnastics, from six months old as a form of physiotherapy to keep my muscles active. Turns out, I may have stood out in the crowd in the warm up alone at the Athletics trials today because of it – my flexibility (which I thought was non-existent) resulted in one of the GB coaches calling over the Head of Paralympic Scouts to watch me lift my leg higher than they had ever seen before whilst sitting in a particularly awkward position on the floor. I’m sure it was a sight to behold… and most certainly something I’m glad I don’t have photographic evidence of!
My first area in Athletics was jumping (mainly long jump for the day) and as it happens, I’m not too shabby at it. As a cheerleader, my jumps are the only thing I can do and do well (tumbles are a no-go with a back like Quasimodo, stunting – not a chance, and I’m more of a show-off than Beyoncé when it comes to the Dance section), and apparently impressed the GB jump coach – I believe his exact words were, “You clearly have a natural talent and ability for long jump. Have you got springs in those trainers?!” Not bad for a person who has no ligaments left in her ankles and rolls both of them on average about five times a week.
Our group of seven were starting to interact a lot more by the time we made it to rotation 2 – sprinting. Of course, I’m not one to keep quiet for very long and ended up talking more than Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, but it was the first time I’d ever had a full-blown conversation with people with CP and I couldn’t help myself; my inquisitive nature kicked in. Or another way to put it – I’m nosy.
I’ve never really been one for running; between the gammy ankles and a distinct lack of stamina, I wasn’t really expecting miracles, but I thought I’d have a crack at it. Maybe sprinting would be better because it’s a shorter distance? Wrong again. Admittedly, it was only 40 metres for the coaches to get an idea of our speed. I’ll give you a hint, I wasn’t about to beat Usain Bolt in a race anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope if I put a pair of roller blades on instead!
The throwing events aren’t exactly my cup of tea either. I’m more akin to doing the splits on a crate of fire rather than managing to do anything more than a pansy throw. Still, it was all part of the experience, which I wouldn’t have changed for the world. I’m not expecting anything out of the trial, for me it’s just another story to tell and possibly a chance get some journalism work out of it; a callback for phase two would just be the icing on the cake.
But I’m not done yet. One trial down. two to go. Track Cycling should be interesting considering I struggle immensely with cornering on a bike, let alone balance, and Triathlon may be the death of me, but I promise to write about it before collapsing in a heap.
Three Paralympic Trials, five weeks – what could possibly go wrong?!