David Weir, Paralympic superhuman
Paralympic superhero David Weir tried all manner of sports before falling for wheelchair racing. The south Londoner, nicknamed the Weirwolf, says his sporting career might have been very different had he lived north of the Thames. We spoke to David after his success at the London 2012 Paralympic games.
How are the arms?
I'm feeling OK, actually. I was in great shape coming into London 2012 and my recovery has been pretty good. The arms aren't aching too much - I'm just a bit tired. I'm still on a high after all I've achieved and am just really enjoying the moment.
How would you sum up your Games?
Fantastic! To win four gold medals at my home Games is special. Going into the competition, I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself. I was aiming for one gold. I knew that if I was to have a good Games, I needed to get a good start and the results would follow.
Were you surprised by the huge crowds?
I was surprised with the attendance in the stadium for the morning sessions - it gave us such a boost. I thought ticket sales would be good because Seb Coe and Locog had done a brilliant job of promoting London 2012. To compete in front of so many people at my home Games was extraordinary.
Has the public's perception of the Paralympics changed?
The exposure Paralympians have had has massively surpassed my expectations. I'm honoured that on the front and back pages, Paralympic sport has got the recognition it deserves.
The Paralympics is no longer about disability - it's about great athletes and great sporting events. People just want to see athletes performing at their very best. We're superhumans and phenomenal athletes.
When did you get into sport?
I was born with something called a spinal cord transection, which means my spinal cord was severed. I've got some feeling in my lower half, but cannot lock my legs or stand up at all. I needed five operations just to straighten my feet.
My parents never treated me like I was disabled or different in any way. As a kid, I'd give anything a go. I was allowed to climb trees on the estate. I loved football and boxing, but I couldn't do them. I had to find something I could do in a chair. I got into wheelchair basketball, but didn't get far because there weren't any teams near me. All the good teams were in north London.
I remember watching the London Marathon wheelchair race and thinking: "I want to try that". I entered the London mini-marathon when I was eight, but didn't have a racing wheelchair, so I raced in a standard day chair. I think I impressed everyone, including myself, with how well I did. I'd found my sport. From that point on, there was no looking back.
Your first Paralympics weren't a success.
My first Games were in Atlanta in 1996. I went there as a 17-year-old expecting a "wow factor", but I didn't get it. The event was poorly organised. There were long queues, the food was awful and the stadium was empty. I could count about five people in the crowd at times. It just ruined me. I fell out of love with the sport, and when I got back I just didn't want to do it any more.
But you came back.
I was sitting on the sofa watching Tanni Grey-Thompson winning all her medals at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. I regretted every minute of my four-year break from the sport and wished I was there. I may have been in medal contention - you never know. That experience just drove me on and renewed my desire to represent my country again and win gold medals.
What's your training like?
The training we do is so hard, as demanding as any elite athlete in the world. When it's freezing cold at the crack of dawn in the winter and you have to do 15 miles in Richmond Park, you feel it. It's damp and your lungs are burning; you feel physically sick. The same can be true when it's sweltering hot. Having said all that, I wouldn't change it for the world.
You've been training with elite cyclists?
In the run-up to the Games, my coach Jenny Archer had me training with a group of high-level cyclists. They would take me through their gears on both flat and hilly terrain in Richmond Park at race speed. I credit that strategy for improving my speed and stamina by 20-30%. In the space of 12 weeks, they took me up to another level I didn't know I had in me.
What's your advice on getting into disability sports?
Go and try every sport. There's enough sports out there for someone with a disability to find something they enjoy. Don't think about what you can't do, think about what you can do. Enjoyment is the most important thing. Don't get too serious too soon. If you find a sport you like, stick with it and take it from there.
- To find out more about getting involved in disability sports, read Get active with a disability.
What's next for the 'Weirwolf'?
When you achieve something special, it's hard not to reflect on the journey you've had. It still doesn't seem that long ago that I was doing trials for the London mini-marathon aged eight. I'm going to enjoy this moment for as long as I can and spend some time with my family. As for Rio 2016, I'm not thinking about that yet, but I'll probably have to make a decision by Christmas.
This article was part of a special report on the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Weir went on to take part in the 2016 Games in Rio.
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