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‘Rio was one of the scariest experiences ever’

December 13, 2016 in Interviews

Representing your country at any major sporting event is bound to generate nerves, but for Team GB wheelchair racer Ben Rowlings the 2016 Paralympics took that to another level. 

“Rio was one of the scariest experiences ever,” he told me. “To go to my first [Paralympic] games, with all the expectations and hype around it, was a really weird feeling.

“If I’m honest, was overwhelming, waiting under the stadium and hearing the crowd erupting from the race before was scary and something I really wasn’t ready for.”

Rowlings competed in the T34 class 100m and 800m events, but sadly wasn’t able to add to the three bronze medals he won at this year’s IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosetto, Italy.

Nonetheless, the 20-year-old from Shropshire was overwhelmed by the warm acclaim received by Team GB’s Olympians and Paralympians on their return home.

Inspirational

“The reception I’ve had since I’ve got back from Rio has been overwhelming, I never thought it would have the impact it has,” he said.

“You get to do some amazing things like going on the pitch at Wembley at half-time during rugby matches.

“I didn’t care who had beaten me, I had medalled at my first major championships for my country”

Then, on the flip-side, you have kids coming up to you telling you that you’ve inspired them to get into sport or try something new, and that hits home and makes everything worthwhile.”

Rowlings, who has cerebral palsy, was once one of those kids, waiting to be inspired to find a sport he could excel in.

Initially, he thought it might be swimming, but a severe condition chlorine allergy left him sneezing every time he went into the pool.

This led him to try wheelchair  racing, and the switch paid off.

Quickest

Coached by Job King at the Coventry Godiva Harriers club since 2011, he showed consistency in 100m, 200m and 800m, moving up the world rankings and competing at meets in Dubai and Switzerland.

As the hard work continued, Rowlings made it into the Team GB lottery-funded World Class Performance Programme in 2014 and raced at that year’s IPC European Championships in Swansea, coming third in the T34 800m final..

“It was a race that could do so much and define my season,” he recalled. ” I can’t remember much, other than the gun sounding and going out hard, the quickest I have ever pushed.

“The rest of the race is a blur, all I know is I crossed the line having won bronze and that it was the best feeling ever.  I didn’t care who had beaten me, I had medalled at my first major championships for my country.”

Training

Rowling is currently training hard, and looking to build on the experience he gained in Rio this summer as he aims for more medals.

“There are days when my body just aches and you just don’t want to move, but you have to just get up and go”

“At the moment I’m in my off-season so I’m doing lots of miles, anywhere between 15-20 a day, with lots of hours in the gym on top.

“As we get into the season, the mileage will come down as we get ready to sharpen up for the the major events, but I’ll be training 2-3 times a day six days a week all year round.

“Day in day out it’s just time management trying to manage training 2-3 times a day, working part-time and recovery is tough.

“There are days when my body just aches and you just don’t want to move, but you have to just get up and go.”

London, then Tokyo

With the experience of Rio 2016 now under his belt, Rowling is setting his sights on next year’s IPC World Athletics Championships in London.

“I’m just taking it one season at a time, so in 2017 we have the Worlds in London and that will be huge, racing in front of a home crowd.

“But looking forward I want to make the squad for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, and once I’m there perform better than I did in Rio.

“I have a massive point to prove because I didn’t race as well as I know I could have in Brazil.”

You can follow Ben Rowlings on Twitter @BenRowlings and on Instagram @benrowlings.

Wheelchair racer Lawson insists his best is yet to come

November 16, 2016 in Interviews

After a training crash which left him paralysed, motocross racer Simon Lawson admits he struggled with a “void” that needed to be filled.

The Cumbrian found a fresh outlet for his competitive nature in endurance wheelchair racing, and was delighted to be selected by Team GB for this year’s Rio Paralympics.

“It feel like it’s definitely been my best year to date,” he  told me. “I’ve set new personal best times, plus being selected to represent our country in the Paralympics was a massive highlight.”

“Wheelchair racing was the sport I chose to fill that void in my life, and so far things are going great”

Lawson, 34, finished 14th in the men’s marathon in the T53 class (for athletes with full use of their arms but limited trunk and lower body movement) in Brazil.

He followed that up with races in Berlin, Chicago, Scotland and New York – in the famous Big Apple marathon, he crossed the line in sixth place.

“New York came at the end of a very busy six-week period, and I think it has got to be one of my best results of the year.

“I didn’t win and it wasn’t my fastest time, but I exceeded my expectations in that race and I managed to get my best position against the best athletes in the world.”

“Berlin was also a good race, finishing sixth again but only six seconds behind the winner and Rio Paralympics gold medalist Marcel Hug. So I think I proved to myself and the other athletes what I was capable of.”

‘Hard to let go’
simon-lawson-motorcross

Lawson competed at national level in motocross before an accident in 2001 left him paralysed from the chest down.

“It’s never easy leaving anything you love doing. I obviously had no choice but to quit motocross because of my injury, but it still was hard to let that go,” he admits.

“Wheelchair racing was the sport I chose to fill that void in my life, and so far things are going great.”

His job at Jack Horseman Motorcycles in Carlisle keeps up his connection with two-wheeled machines, but it’s his three-wheeled racing chair that has taken him to the highest level of disability sport.

Personal parade

After that impressive 14th place finish in Rio, Lawson was excited to take part in the Olympic and Paralympic celebration in Manchester.

But he was even more thrilled when he discovered that the people of his hometown Mayport had organised a street parade to mark his return from Brazil.

“That truly was amazing, I was blown away by the parade! They closed off the main street and let the local schools have the morning off to come and cheer for me. What a reception.

“It was even more special than the Team GB parade in Manchester because this was local and personal and just for me.

“I couldn’t believe how many people turned out and supported me. It will be a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Pride

Of course, taking part in the Team GB event was, Lawson stresses, another very special day.

“It was such an honour to be part of it. Parading through the streets of Manchester with thousands of people cheering and waving GB flags.

“I aim to be at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and hopefully this time bring home a medal”

“It gave me a massive sense of pride and also a lot of motivation to continue in my sport and represent my country again.”

Now that the racing season is over for the wheelchair racer, you would think that he deserves some off time and a break from the sport before the tough training regime starts again next year. Wrong.

Lawson said: “I’ve had a short break from training and racing, but now I’m starting my winter training programme to get ready for 2017. I’m aiming to work on my weaknesses and develop my strengths.”

Funding

Despite the progress he has made in 2016, Lawson didn’t do enough to keep his lottery funding for 2017.

He admits it is a blow, and knows that being self-funded next season will be tough. But he sees it as “extra motivation” to prove people wrong and is determined to get good results and use the prize money to help out with his costs.

“I plan to compete in the Abbott World Major marathon series, races in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York, plus some track races and races in this country between the major events.

“I aim to be at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and hopefully this time bring home a medal.”

You can follow Simon Lawson on Twitter @_SL74. Image courtesy of timeandstar.co.uk

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