Earlier this month I was down in the Algarve, in Monte Gordo, for a 12-day training camp which gave me a great opportunity to get in a lot of hard training and also refresh my brain. My dad (Paddy) is my coach but, as he’s a teacher and it was term-time, he couldn’t get the time off so it was just myself and my girlfriend (Nicole Martin) out there. Nicole is my assistant coach as well and does so much for me outside our relationship. She has a very high pressure job as an actuary. I didn’t understand before what that even was but she works out things like probabilities in pensions and life insurance. She’s a brain-box basically. I landed on my feet there! Yet she took six days of her annual leave to come training with me, cycling alongside with the stop-watch. We’ve always been a close-knit team and family and Nicole is a part of that family now.
I was actually born and brought up in Cushendall for the first few years of my life before we went to Glengormley but myself and Nicole moved into a place in Jordanstown over a year ago. It’s a nice location as it’s great for me for training and also handy for her to get to work in Belfast. I get everything I need in terms of sports science and support at the Northern Ireland Sport Institute’s high performance centre in Jordanstown and the Mary Peter’s track in Belfast, which was redeveloped about five years ago and is only about 20 minutes away.
I went to school in St Malachy’s College where my dad teaches. He started up an athletics’ club under the school banner and, essentially, St Malachy’s AC was a school team competing against all the best clubs in Ireland. We won national titles with a schools’ team, which was pretty amazing. My dad is still teaching – I think it’s his 22nd year in the school – but he has retired from coaching schools and other athletes now to focus on me. That means I’m training alone mostly which can be a bit frustrating but that’s the way it’s been for a few years now and I’m used to it.
I’ve had two tough years with injury. In 2014 I had a foot problem near the sole of my foot and needed to get injections in it and, last year, I fell down the stairs in a bit of a freak accident which was not ideal! I damaged all the ankle ligaments in one foot and, when I got back from that, I got shin-splints for two and a half months on my left leg which were very painful. Because I’ve been very injured over the last couple of years I’m not in the shape yet that I was three years ago to be competitive against the top able-bodied athletes. So this year is all about being low-key and keeping out of the spotlight in order to rebuild for Rio. But I’ll be doing some local (track) races, the equivalent to the second league locally, just to get me competitive and build up a bit of confidence. I’ll also do some road-races. I did the Dunboyne 4-mile (in Meath) a couple of months ago, my first able-bodied race in over two years. I recently ran the Clonliffe 2-mile and also ran the first leg of the relay in the Belfast Marathon with a group of old school friends who I used to run with in St Malachy’s. They’re all lawyers and doctors now, I’m the only athlete left, but it was a good bit of fun. I ran the first leg - six miles! It was really enjoyable but I’d never run a 10km before in my life so it was an interesting experience.
Everything is going to plan right now for Rio. We’re being cautious, taking a lot more rest days and being sensible, realising that my body can’t cope with the same stress and amount of training that I did three or four years ago and we’re getting good results out of it. I didn’t run pain-free until the 21st of June last year so, in terms of going into Rio I’m way, way ahead of where I was going into World Championships last year which is very encouraging.
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.