For us Paralympians the serious business of competition is still over a month away but, when the Olympics kick off this weekend, it will start to feel very close.
Seeing the stadium in Rio full of spectators and all the venues get up and running will get the excitement levels surging as I look forward to my second taste of a Paralympics after winning silver in the T12 100m in London.
Every athlete has their own story to tell and the rollercoaster I’ve been on in the past couple of years has brought home to me how, for many, just making it to a Games and getting to take part is an amazing experience that should never be taken for granted.
So much has happened since I won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years ago. I’ve had injuries, changed coach and guide runner, lost my UKA funding and been re-classified into a T11 runner, but now I feel things are falling into place and I can’t wait to get out to Rio and compete in the 100m and 200m.
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since those amazing Olympics and Paralympics in London and I’m sure we are in for another inspiring few weeks of sport. I’ll follow as much of the Olympics as I can but the timings aren’t great with a lot of the stuff on late at night, which isn’t ideal for an athlete in training!
It may sound funny but it’s not really the athletics I’ll follow that closely. Obviously I’ll be supporting the GB athletes and hoping people like Mo and Jess can do the business again. It’s also fantastic that we have so many Scots in the team – 15 is a great achievement – and I’ll be wishing them all the best. I train at Loughborough and Lynsey Sharp is down here too so I know her and there are a few others I got to know being part of the Commonwealth Games.
Laura Muir is running so well, which is brilliant. I was there in the Olympic Stadium the other week when she won the 1,500m at the Anniversary Games. She looked absolutely superb.
That said, when you are so immersed in athletics as part of your regular routine you don’t exactly want to come home and watch it for hours on end when you’re trying to switch off and relax.
So I’m actually looking forward to getting into some of the other sports I like. I love the gymnastics and the weightlifting. That’s the beauty of the Olympics and the Paralympics – you find yourself completely hooked on sports that are not mainstream and not really on the television very much. While the nation is swept up in Olympic fever I will, of course, have to keep my serious hat on and work really hard in these precious few weeks before our competition gets going.
It has been a long hard road to get myself in this position and I’m determined to make the most of it.
Last year was a long battle with injuries . At the IPC World Championships in Doha I injured my foot and wasn’t able to compete in the 200 metres semi-final. That led to me losing my funding, which was clearly a big blow.
I’ve been really fortunate to have my sponsors stick by me and continue to support me, including SSE [Scottish and Southern Energy] and ESPC [Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre]. If it hadn’t been for them and others then I would have had to go part-time with my athletics and get a job to pay for travel and medical bills and stuff like that, which would have made it very difficult to perform at the highest level.
Another major change has been my reclassification. I had an annual optometry appointment earlier in the year and they said my sight had got worse. So we looked at getting re-classified in the UK. But you have to get IPC classification as well, which is done by non-British classifiers. I was hoping to go to the European Championships but it dragged on unfortunately and it was only a few weeks ago in Berlin that my re-classification was confirmed. In my new classification you have to run blindfolded, which was a massive change. I had never run with one before. I was extremely wary but when I got going with it in training I found I was running really similar times as before, which showed me that I wasn’t really using what limited sight I have anyway. I’ve done a couple of races and got PBs in both the 100m and 200m this year now so that shows I’m in good shape and have adapted fine to the blindfold, so much so that I broke the T11 200m world record at the London Anniversary Games last month.
I knew I could run a 24.7 but I never imagined I could go 24.44, It was a massive shock. I’ve been running with my new guide Chris Clark since February but had niggling injuries all winter and most of the work I did was on the bike rather than the track so that race in London was only my third 200m.
The first one we did together was absolutely awful. We ran it in about 30 seconds and were completely out of sync. It’s quite funny looking back at it now. So bad! But then in our next one I got close to my PB and obviously in London, which was my first time blindfolded, we nailed it. So I couldn’t be happier with the way things are.
As always there have been a few dramas in the background leading up to these Games, with the Russian doping scandal and the Zika virus and stuff like that but it’s not something I’ve been giving any thought to really. I block it out. It’s a distraction. There is no point in getting yourself worked up about things. I just have to focus on what I can control, which is my training and being in the best shape I can be.
I know there is a decision coming up on whether Russia should be banned from the Paralympics. It would be naive to think doping is not an issue in Paralympic sport. The money and rewards are getting bigger all the time so it’s bound to happen, which is sad.
However, over the next couple of weeks, there are going to be so many positive stories and memorable moments to savour. I can’t wait.
l Channel 4 will broadcast over 600 hours of the 2016 Paralympics across all platforms, building on the multi award-winning coverage of 2012 and continuing to transform perceptions of disability.