I’m leaving for the Paralympics on August 31 with a group of my teammates. Paralympics Ireland gave us a choice of three departure dates and they have a holding camp in Uberlandia beforehand, but I’m one of those flying straight to the athletes’ village because I feel 11 days will be enough to acclimatise and prepare. I only have one event - the T37 1500m – in Rio. I won the 800m and 1500m in London but, since then, the international body (IPC) decided there isn't room on the programme to allow a T37-38 800m. They want to encourage more female participation in Paralympic sport and have increased the number of events for female athletes.
Jason (Smyth) has lost his 200m event as well, but other athletes are missing out completely on Rio because their events are gone completely so I’ll not complain. We’ve known this from two years ago. We went through the process of appealing it, and Paralympics Ireland also tried to get our events back in, but to no avail. So it means that one 1500m race, a straight final on September 11, is my whole focus.
Gauging the opposition is difficult. There is a para athletics’ Grand Prix circuit, per se, but they happen at odd times and in very distant place like Rio, Australia, Doha and America. You have to pay your own way and then, when you turn up, there might be no one else racing in your category so it makes no sense. Based on the A qualifying standard and world rankings there’ll be a dozen or more in my event in Rio but you don’t actually know who’ll turn up. One of my top rivals is Brad Scott, from Australia. I’ve been competing against him since 2008 but a new 19-year-old Canada’s Liam Stanley, has turned up this year. I’ve never raced against him and he’s ranked second.
As defending champion you always have a target on your back. All I can do is focus on my own performance. Jason and I usually room together, always have. He’s very calm. I’m more uptight than him, possibly because, over 100m, he’s in his own lane and no one else can influence him. My race is longer, there are people all around me and tactics are such a bit part of it.
I bring my PlayStation everywhere and hopefully I’ll be able to bring my projector in my hand-luggage too. It’s an industrial sized one, with 3D glasses and everything. You never know what access you’ll have to a TV when you’re away and Jason has to sit quite close to a screen to play FIFA. So having the projector means we can blow things up and watch movies as big as possible.
These last few weeks are just about fine-tuning. There’s only three or four really good sessions left in the tank so it’s mostly about maintenance, like physio, ice-baths, stretching and foam-rolling; just trying to keep my body loose. That’s the key for me.
I went to the Opening Ceremony in 2008 but none since. It’s a great experience once but you have to be at the stadium two hours beforehand and don’t usually get home until after midnight and there’s an awful lot of standing about which isn't ideal race preparation.
My whole family went to London 2012 and my dad was in Beijing too, but none of them are travelling to Rio. The general safety worries put me off wanting them to go. Last year’s World Championships in Doha was the first time myself and my fiancée Nicole were separated for a long time so she made up a special diary for me. It’s really a book of positivity, with all different quotes, memories, jokes and photos of us and I’ll have that by my bedside - it’s like my wee Bible.
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.