1992: my first Paralympics, part III

It became clear after a couple of days that the doctors were talking weeks rather than days, so I booked myself in at the physio’s for some intensive treatment. The treatment involved ultra sound treatment and interferential treatment (passing an electric current through the joint). That wasn’t bad, but the mobilisation was awful. The physio forced my knee to bend, and then forced it to straighten, and repeated this action. It was very painful, and when I left it stiffened up again after about half an hour. However, after a couple of weeks and lots of physio I could just about bend my knee properly, and so I started training again. I had four weeks to get from a hobbling wreck to gold medal challenger. As was my modus operandi, I jumped straight back in at a high level of intensity. However, as was bound to be the case, having had two weeks out I had lost a great deal of conditioning. This meant that whilst I could run quite fast immediately I soon tired and lost the ability to run fast. If I was going to challenge in Barcelona I had to push myself enough to allow me to run the full distance of each race without tiring badly.


With hind sight, I should probably have re focused and chose just one event to have a good go at, whilst still making myself available for the relays. However, due to the confidence of youth I didn’t and instead I just kept on pushing myself. My hamstrings reacted badly to this. I suffered what I then thought were small muscle tears, but only serious enough to keep me from running for a couple of days. The feeling was like having sellotape pulled off from behind my knee to half way up my hamstring. The prognosis; stop running for a day or two, stretch and then get back into it slowly.


Despite these semi-self induced tribulations, JW and I flew out to Barcelona pleased to be on the plane but unsure as to just how well I would be able to compete against the worlds best. The atmosphere amongst the team on the plane was electric, lots of wise cracks and general excitement filled the air. When we arrived at the Olympic village we had to queue for our accreditation, the passport to all the Paralympic experience. If you don’t have an accreditation you can’t go anywhere or access any of the services, including the dining hall. Whilst stood in the queue the volunteers handed out small food items. I thought I had been handed a round chocolate biscuit, so I removed the plastic wrapper and popped it in my mouth, only to find out it was a small Edam cheese with the wax skin still on it. This was the first time I chose the “I hope no-one saw that” approach and kept my mouth shut and chewed, and while trying to portray enjoyment swallowed the cheese and wax mixture. I think I got away with it, but it hasn’t always worked since then.


We were staying in apartment blocks, 8 to an apartment and two to a room. I obviously shared with JW. The rest of our apartment was made up mainly of blinky athletes. MF was sharing with BR, MB, our very poorly sighted B2 marathon runner, was sharing with BS, the guide runner of TH, and a coach TW had a room to himself. The Olympic village had lots of amenities to keep the athletes amused and cared for during their stay. Most were not suitable for blinkies, but I do recall playing a couple of games of “Simon Says”, which back in the day, the late 70s to be precise, was at the cutting edge of technology as I recall.


On the waterfront was a private beach for the athletes sole use, a pizza hut was at the end of the beach at the start of a pier, and there were lots of shops and games areas in the international zone. JW and I spent many a happy hour testing out the perfumes and after shaves in the Perfumerie. We got many an admiring wolf whistle from fellow B1 athletes, but never did find a perfume nice enough, or more pertinently, cheap enough to force us to open our wallets.


One of our most important tasks was to collect our race kit. We had already received an all-in-one lycra bodysuit with the rest of our kit, but we had to personally collect our race shorts and vests. All the sprinters went to JB’s room as he, as the most experienced coach in the team, had been designated as the kit man for our squad. JB sat on his bed with several open boxes of kit strewn around the room. He had a clip board with all our names on it, and as he gave us our kit he marked us off on the list. However, JB got a bit confused, and JW got a bit light fingered. Every time JB turned his back more kit was stuffed down the front of JW’s shorts. By the time we left the room with our issued two vests and two shorts JW looked quite deformed and in need of a truss.


After the initial orientation day we ventured down to the training track to try and loosen out our legs after all the traveling. The first bit of excitement for JW was his first ever sighting of a Kenyan albino. It was probably a good job the Kenyan had bad sight as JW’s stares must have been unnerving. JW wanted me to stand on the track as the Kenyan approached so that he could take a photo of him without making it obvious, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.


The session we did was an easy one to get some life back into our legs after the traveling. However, my hamstring injury resurfaced on the second or third run. JA’s wife, DA, was a physio with the team and tried to deal with it. However, she struggled, as every other physio did, to find the exact area which was injured. This was undoubtedly due to it being a nerve issue, but at the time no-one seemed to realise that. Treatment was given, but I think that was more to reassure me rather than because they thought it was necessary. Looking back this theory is supported by one physio just asking me what treatment I wanted and on what part of my body. My notes obviously said something about me being a hypochondriac and the best policy was to amuse me by doing whatever I asked.


Prior to the games starting in earnest KA, the sprints coach, decided to hold a relay practice. I was to run the third leg. Although this was unusual to ask a B1 athlete to run a bend, we also had another B1 athlete in the team, RL, who was to run the second leg due to him being difficult to guide, and MW was to run the last leg as he was seen to be two large and cumbersome to run a good bend. When it was time to practice the last changeover I had to run flat out towards the changeover zone and MW was to exit it at full speed. I told KA that I would struggle to do this due to my hamstring. KA wasn’t having any of it. He told me that it was all in my head and to just get on with it and stop bitching about it. I complied with his demand, and 40 metres and one torn hamstring later I felt satisfied that I had proved that it wasn’t in my head, but heartbroken that my games were probably over before they had even begun. Injuries were bad enough, but being injured at a championships was horrible; to be surrounded by athletes excited and preparing for the races of their lives whilst you are unable to do likewise is awful.


We still had several days until the opening ceremony, and an extra couple of days until the races actually began, so there was hope that a miracle may occur in the intervening period, but I wasn’t holding out much hope. In short, I was distraught and miserable beyond belief.


I was referred to the teams top physio, NB. NB worked with the able bodied team, and has continued to do so ever since. Our paths would cross again in 1999 at the IAAF championships, and indeed NB would go on to be in charge at UK Athletics. At first he wasn’t impressed that I dared to disturb his sun bathing time while the physio centre was shut for lunch, but despite this initial mutual irritation we soon developed a good working relationship. And to be honest, we had to as I spent over an hour being treated by him three times a day for the next few days.


RL had also suffered a hamstring injury, so treatment sessions were never dull. I remember RL during one physio session politely saying to NB “please step away from the table”. NB took a small step back before RL farted in his face. RL received quite a hammering during that session. All three of us, RL, NB and I, missed the opening ceremony as we were being treated at the time and it was also felt that several hours queuing and standing wouldn’t be good for us. Despite hours of scouring the physio text books, NB simply couldn’t find a single academic that suggested hours of pointless standing around as a form of hamstring repair.


During this period NB told me that my hamstring was fine really and had just gone into spasm, and that come race day I would be fine. All I had to do was stay off my feet, keep trying to stretch it out, and once I blasted out of my blocks I wouldn’t feel anything. JW for once was more informed than I was; NB had told him that I had suffered a really bad hamstring tear and there was little or no chance of me being fit to race. He asked him not to tell me and to tow the party line. JW for perhaps the first time (and possibly the last time) did as he was told.


Due to the excessive treatment my skin, especially around the hair follicles, had become very irritated. I was ordered to shave my leg from half way down my calf to the top of my butt cheek. Although this was the area over which the bruise had spread I didn’t realise why I had to shave so excessively. It would soon become clear on race day …..


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