In the past four weeks I’ve been racing in a lot of able-bodied competitions, including the European Championships in Amsterdam, from which I’ve just returned. First came the National Championships in Santry, where I won the 100m. It was four years since I’d competed at them, so it was long overdue and great to be there and win a title. I won the 100m once before (2011) and it is very satisfying because I don’t know how many Paralympic athletes have won their able-bodied national championships.
For me, that’s part of my philosophy; to show that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. Just because I can’t see very well doesn’t mean I’m not capable of being able to compete with the best. I like to try and do things that other people don’t do, or see as possible. Two days later I ran in the Cork City Sports but wasn’t too happy with that. I was 4th in 10:52 seconds but in very windy conditions.
It has all been about competing this summer, just trying to get back that competitiveness and put my runs together. Over the last few years, due to injury, I haven’t had consistent competition so, for me, it’s been about getting back into that place. Part of that also was running the first leg for the Irish 4x100m relay at Europeans.
I really enjoy running in a team event but I’m actually always more nervous running in relays than individually because I feel it’s easier, visually, for things, to go wrong for me. But it went well. Our second changeover wasn’t great but our time was still the third quickest Irish time ever so we weren’t that far off the national record.
I turned 29 at the start of the month, on July 4 – getting old now! I didn’t get to do much celebrating because I left home at 9am to go to the Sports Institute for training, and then went straight down to Dublin as Paralympics Ireland held their official team announcement for Rio Paralympics next day. It took place in Dublin’s City Hall. I’d never been there before but it was a really nice venue, everything was very well organised and it seemed to create lots of excitement about Rio.
It is great to be part of a strong team. The athletics team, especially, has changed a lot since London 2012. Only three of 10 of us have been to the Paralympics before, but some of the new faces already brought home medals from the IPC European Championships this summer. We’ve got a lot of younger athletes coming through now so it is a promising blend of experience and youth.
It’s great to see Paralympic sport reaching and attracting younger people now. For me that’s really exciting. The atmosphere at the (able-bodied) Europeans in Amsterdam was great and really got me looking forward to Rio. The stadium was packed and it was just nice to be back in that highly-competitive environment again – it was like a rehearsal for the Paralympics.
But, to be honest, nothing really prepares you for them the first time around! Rio will be my third Paralympics and, the truth is, European and World Championships just don’t compare. I’ll advise my new teammates to go to the Opening Ceremony in Rio if they’re not competing next day, because that is the quickest way to realise just how big it is. Standing in the middle of a packed stadium for a Paralympics opening ceremony literally does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!
It’s in those big moments that you really find out if you’re able to rise to the occasion or will find it difficult. Ideally you’re trying to feed off that atmosphere to ensure that you rise to the occasion and hopefully that’s what we’ll all be able to do in Rio in September.
Jason Smyth (28), a visually impaired sprinter from Derry, is officially the ‘fastest Paralympian on the planet.’ He won T13 gold at both 100m & 200m in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 Paralympics and aims to retain his 100m title at the Rio Paralympics (Sept 7-18, 2016).
His 100m personal best (10:22) is the second fastest ever by an Irishman and he is also one of only 10 Irish men to break 21 seconds. He missed the A qualification standard for the 2012 London Olympics by just four hundredths of a second and has set himself the same ‘double’ target for Rio.