It’s called ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’ by Ben Hunt-Davis, an Olympic gold medallist who was part of a British rowing eight and it’s a book for people who want to achieve better in their lives, not just in sport. He talks about the things he used to achieve his Olympic dream.
I know that I’ve been able to achieve my Paralympic dream already but whenever you’ve been out of the game for so long – or been hit badly like I have with injuries in the last few years - coming back into racing is tough.
I really feel I’ve made great progress in the past month. Not only have I got in another four weeks of consistent training but I’ve entered my first phase of able-bodied racing since 2013 and that’s a massive boost for me ahead of Rio. I started with the Clonliffe 2-Mile road-race last month and then did my first track meet of the season, running an able-bodied 800m race in Bangor. That was a bit of a rust-buster and a hard thing to do because I had no idea where I was, or how fast I was going to run. There’s always that little bit of doubt when you’re coming back. It was a local, low-key meet and I don’t think people expected me to turn up to a race like that. People probably expected me to run quicker and, in my head, that was the toughest thing. I knew it was all about just enjoying it and getting back competitive, that’s why I was so happy to be able to go out and win it. My time was one minute 59 seconds which was good for the first race back. I knew I could go quicker but it showed me I was in alright shape so it was very positive.
Next came the Northern Ireland senior championships where I ran my first 1500m of the year – another rust-buster in 4:11.40. But, a week later, in the Irish senior championships I was delighted to go a full seven seconds faster (4:04.47), so I’m headed in the right direction. Those were three massive opportunities for me to test myself against able-bodied athletes. I’ve always competed in able-bodied competition as well as Paralympic races. I raced in Ulster and Irish Schools’ Championships on the track and made it to All-Ireland Schools once, where I finished fifth. In 2009 I won the Irish U20 cross-country title, which was also the selection race for the European Cross-Countries and, to be honest, apart from winning in Paralympic sport that was one of the highlights of my career. At nationals I stuck it up to all the best Irish U20 athletes at the time. Then to go and compete for my country in an able-bodied European Championships, that was really something massive for me.
Over the years my form in able-bodied athletics has always let me know if I’m in good shape or not. It’s where I gain real strength and competitiveness and confidence.
I love warm weather so the great weather we had for a while was brilliant for training - until it changed. I did a small session tonight and the rain was so torrential it actually flooded the track! I hope our ‘Summer’ is not over already.
I’m a massive football fan and a massive Arsenal fan as well, so obviously I’ve been enjoying the Euros as well for the past month, and was absolutely gutted to see Northern Ireland and Ireland eventually bow out but they gave some outstanding performances, especially against Ukraine and Italy. I know there’ll be people who say you can’t follow the two teams but I do and was cheering for both.
The island of Ireland really does punch above its weight in sport, doesn’t it? Over the next week or so the Irish Paralympic team will be confirmed so hopefully I’ll get the nod and be on the plane for Rio. Then it’s all really about one race. One race, one day, four minutes. It’s vital that I get it all right so that I can come home with the right colour medal.
Michael McKillop (26), from Glengormley, is a three-time Paralympic track champion in the T37 (Cerebral Palsy) category. He won his first, in Beijing 2008, when he was just 18, and completed the 800/1500m double at London 2012. He is also a seven-time IPC world champion and holds the T37 world records of 1:57.19 (800m) and 3:59.53 (800m). A winner of the Wang Youn Dai Award at London 2012 for the athlete that best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics, Michael has also competed for Ireland in able-bodied athletics and won Irish junior titles at cross-country and 1500m.