Ok so those that know me reading this will think, Hang on a minute steve, you can walk why are you doing this. Ok before I started this I struggled with this question too. Yes I can walk, up and down an office corridor, up the stairs (down as well), I can drive my car to work, I even do the occasional run session with my triathlon club be it incredibly slowly and fally overy. All of this played on my mind quite a bit as I felt like an imposter in a world I had not stepped into but a close friend whos fault it is I’m doing it said to look at it this way… “if somebody said to you to run in a race would you be able to do it or would your MS cause you a horrible time?”.
I thought back to the previous triathlons I had done, and it made sense, I was alright on the swim, apart from getting out the water as my legs would always go south, reboot in a long transition then the bike, that was alright too as your clipped in and keep going and pushing power. Good job triathlons generally don’t have traffic lights and idiots in cars that are too big for them shouting at you while you’re riding. Again, factors that make the legs go south. Finally the run, well walk in one of my races. I just cant do it as the legs just don’t want to run like others can and anyway they don’t work by that point, the best one being the race I faceplanting 5m from the finish line then rollie pollying over the line to style it out. It was in good humor but it was this grating issue I will never be able to do a decent distance triathlon with this demon on my shoulder so I said to my mate F**K it book me in for a visit and I’ll give it a try.
My first session I met Kim who is one of the coaches at Wier Archer, I like Kim she tells you it how it is. We found a chair from the club, shoehorned my ass into it and I tried going up and down. “I need to tell you this, Wheelchair racing is hard” I was informed by Kims younger coaching apprentice, I still owe him haribo for his services on my first visit. Yup your right F**K its hard, pushing that chair was like it was in treacle while other racers zoomed past me. This was going to be hard but I like a challenge and came away with a spark that had been lit and the determination I got when I tried tough mudder a few years ago.
I had a break from it over Christmas, I was moving house which is the most stressful thing in the world, just don’t do it its horrible and because of things had a crappy flair up with my legs. Previous to this too I did some run / walk training which resulted in me faceplanting on the concrete 4 times and winning a load of cuts and bruises. Christmas and housemove semi over I came back for my next session, Quicker, Move control and getting the hang of it with proper gloves which make your hands look like spock. Still only going in straight lines but it was quickly becoming a sport I was totally falling in love with. The thing that was weird is every time I got back to where the coaches were I was getting asked more questions. Whens your classification, concentrate more on pushing the rims, do this, try that. I really felt like there was a genuine interest in the fact there is a minute small chance I might be good at this with practice. Finally, Steve you might be able to run with wheels or at least not swagger like a drunk and fall over.
My 3rd session came along and by this point I had started researching things a bit more and even looking at my own chair, gloves, other stuff but they are expensive because they are generally custom fitted to the person racing it. Having an Xmas bonus from work is a dangerous thing. I saw one on ebay and it was kind of local but really didn’t know if it will fit. Regardless I was gonna try it. Anyway back to the 3rd session, Kim was like “enough of the straight lines we are gonna try going round the track tonight” in my head this was like F**********ck I cant do that but I think the weight training was starting to help and I managed it and fairly accurately too. “OK off you go on your own then” said Kim, really? Ok this is very unchartered territory my head was telling me, anyway off I went. Another lap, Another lap and another. I then got put with one of the groups and did drills, I was coping with it be it a bit slowly and not getting to grips with turning the chair on the spot but I was doing it. Then best part of the night was when we finished and one of the parents asked “how many weeks have you been doing this?” I replied it being my 3rd go at it the reply back was “Well, that was F**king fantastic”
That weekend I went and saw that chair I was talking about and it was one of those Cinderella fitting the glass slipper moments where my ass just slid into it, I reached down and pretty much had a 1pm to 6pm reach on the rims which is the optimal thing. It still needed tweaking but I could not turn it down. It was a kneeler too not a sitter, More aero, more speed, Ka-ching there goes the xmas bonus.
The following day I was dying to try it out so it was in the back of the car and off to Dorney where I have done most of my triathlons. Ok get in it, off you go see what happens and before I knew it Chrisi was in a cloud of dust and I was half way down the lake. I made a point of seeing if I can do the run distance of my previous triathlons so the aim was 2.5km. OK your not wasted after that, your not feeling like your on a fairground waltzer and you still have more to give. Interesting……… When I got home I changed all the distances for the triathlons I have entered to the distance above it. I can do the run in the chair, the bike on the bike and the swim on the,,,,, wait, I can do the swim.
The following day I had wheelchair racing again and proudly came in with my new steed, Immediately Kim said “you brought it then” then the next comment was “I think your ready to actually do the session with the others as you have progressed so quickly in this”. That was a proud moment and strange as in literally a month I have fallen for this sport from how friendly everybody is to how encouraging people are on the sides of the track. I didn’t actually join the group this session as it was more beneficial to tune the new chair like a sports car, Do a Lap, Do a tweak, Do a lap. That was when I met Millie. She wasn’t taking part in the session but knew her stuff and it was like a F1 pit team every time I came in after a lap. We got it tweaked and feeling so much better I cant wait for Dorney this weekend as I’m gonna try and do 10km. I feel massively privileged to be a part of Wier Archer and although it seems weird to me still that for the most of it I can still walk just very drunkenly I really feel a part of a family there. I know deep down at some point things are going to go more south with my legs, but this is my insurance policy for when it does and when it comes I’m ready and I can still race.
The slight barrier here is because of the classification my MS puts me in with parasport I will not be able to race the really official races as I don’t quite fit in one pigeonhole and I don’t quite fit in another but I can still race in unclassified races which I am going to. I am also planning on doing unclassified triathlon races with the run part in the chair. I have my classification in March so I guess we have to see what dice I get thrown in that. Ultimately am I going to go to the Olympics? Probably not. Am I going to race internationally? Probably not. Am I going to carry on doing this as I F**king love it? Certifiably YES!!!!! Am I now looking at maybe very slightly possibly maybe maybe possibly maybe doing a 70.3 ironman the following year? Only if Tabby does one as I have a score to settle.