Blog post written by Nick Smith- Leeds City AC wheelchair racer and Leeds City Council sports coach
I couldn’t wait for May to come, on the 27th I was flying out to Switzerland to compete in the IPC (International Paralympics Committee) Grand Prix 2015 in Nottwil. The competition is dubbed the best Wheelchair Racing Competition in the world outside of a major championship like the Paralympics. It attracts athletes from as far as the US, Canada, Australia, and Thailand as well as the European countries. This was my first ever time competing abroad, I was so excited! I was travelling with my training partner, Tiaan, who is a South African athlete who resides in York. We drove down to Gatwick, car full to bursting. 2 every day chairs, 2 suitcases, 2 huge wheel bags and 2 racing chairs covered in masses of bubble wrap to protect them on the flight…… its good a job I’m small!
God knows what people must have thought when we turned up to Gatwick and emptied the car, what a sight. It was a good job we booked airport assistance as we wouldn’t have had a chance of getting from the car park to the check-in desk with all of our kit.
When we finally arrived at our Hotel in Switzerland it was late at night so we both just got our heads down and waited to see what the morning would bring. The hotel we were staying in was great; a stone’s throw away from the track and it was good to have some of the other British athletes who we knew staying in the same hotel with us. After putting our racing chairs back together from the flight, pleased to find that there had been no damage, we made our journey to the track….. oh my god, what a track it was, it was so fast. I was hitting top speeds in my sprints session I had been set by my coach Paul Moseley. The track was full of wheelchair racers, it’s the most I’d ever seen, top class athletes all around me, I could get used to this!
Then my call up for classification came, I thought my journey was over. Classification is a process that all athletes wishing to compete in disability sport have to go through. The idea is that everybody is classified on their own functionality and then athletes are grouped together accordingly with other athletes of similar functionality. It’s a way of levelling the playing field. The classifiers take you into a room and ask you to perform different types of movements and the classifiers prod and pull you about shouting numbers at each other to put down on their classifiers chart. Tiaan was in before me and he was in and out in 10 minutes, he got what he wanted T53 confirmed. Easy! I knew this wouldn’t be the case for me, and it wasn’t! I am a hard one to classify as I have attributes that fit into all the different wheelchair racing categories, I’d been through the UK classification system 3 times and I was finally told I fitted into the T52 category. Not here though, I was in and out of the room about 4 times as they couldn’t agree on what I was. In the end they said they need to see me on the track, at the end of the track session they said they need to look at me in competition the next day, but for now they were classifying me as a T53! I was distraught; I didn’t know what to do, I phoned my Dad, my coach. I felt sick, I thought I’d let everyone down at home, as a lot of people had been donating money to help fund my new chair as I and they believed I had a genuine chance of going far in the sport as T52 athlete! I had gone from being so excited to competing the next day and ready to compete with the best T52s in the world to wanting to come home. My coach, Paul obviously talked me round and had a master plan as he always does. He told me to forget about it, race hard in the morning, wait for the final classification sheet to come up, and we will appeal it if we have to.
Race day……. I woke up just as worried as I was the night before, expecting the worst! But was still kind of excited just to get out there and compete and just try to PB. I went down to the athlete area to collect my numbers and check the start lists. Brilliant…… I was in the first race of the whole competition not against any other T53s but against 3 other T54s, was someone playing a trick on me? The first race was the 400m, not my favourite event, but I wasn’t bothered about that, just wanted to see what happened after the race regarding classification. I lined up on the start line and could see the world’s best T52 athlete, Raymond Martin, watching on from the side line sat with the world’s best woman in wheelchair racing Tatyana McFadden both from the USA, no pressure there then! As the gun went I got off to great start and was waiting for the 54s to pass me before the first straight, I knew they would. I was going well, had a nice tail wind on the back straight so was flying hitting my top speed!! Hit the final the straight, the tail wind turned into the headwind battled through it and was fractionally of my PB so couldn’t complain at that really! I Pulled off the track and got into my day chair waiting for the classification sheet to come out, worrying yet again. I had no idea how long it would be. I was sat there watching the other races, I could see the classifiers heading my way, oh no, here we go…… “Nick we got it wrong, we’ve changed you back you’re a confirmed T52!” I was ecstatic, I almost started crying. I phoned Paul straight away, he was over the moon and relieved, and was celebrating by opening the wine! The worry was now over; I have my classification, and can now focus and enjoy the rest of the competition.
The next race was my favourite event the 100m. I couldn’t wait for it. I was lining up against the best T52s in the world, it was a great feeling. My start is my strongest bit of my race, I always go out fast and I was leading for about 60m when they others started clawing me back, I finished in 4th in the end but not by much all, it was such a close race and a narrowly missed my PB again. I was loving it now! The 200m was the next day. I was lined up against one of the top T52 sprinters in the world, I stuck with him through most of the bend but then he found an extra gear, I felt strong through the race and it showed. I finally PB’d and had knocked 1 second off, I was so happy!
By the end of the weekend I was gutted to be coming home, it was an unbelievable experience and can’t wait to go back next year. All the other athletes were staying in Switzerland for another week to compete in 2 other competitions. My friend Hannah Cockroft was sending me the results over of the T52 races; I wish I had the money to stay out there. All the athletes who I was close with were pushing so fast, and breaking all of their PBs as it is one of the fastest tracks in the world! Ahhhh well, live and learn better start saving for next year. Bring it on!
Thank-you, for reading hope you enjoyed it.
Facebook: Nick Smith – Wheelchair Racer