The Final Push

The first week in July saw all the GB Para-cycling team members who had been selected for the 2012 London Paralympics, travel to and stay at the St Pierre & Country Club in Chepstow for the week, while we trained at the National Velodrome in Newport. This hotel will be our venue for our holding camp before the transition up to London one week before the games.

The first week of my training on the track was a small shock to my system, having had only two weeks back on the track in Manchester after my training abroad and now with my legs finding their power again, the efforts on the track were going to be increased every day to maximise my improvements for London over the next two weeks.

On the Sunday 8th July, fellow Para-cyclist and Paralympic Gold medallist Jody Cundy MBE and I were invited to take part in a SKY ride for the public at the Velodrome in Newport as part of the celebrations of 50 days to go before the start of the 2012 London Paralympics. The day was organised to invite the public to take part in safe cycling with trained staff on the roads around Newport. Jody and I had a fab time and made lots of new cycling friends, who also enjoyed their cycling experiences around the coastline roads in the sun.

My second week of track training in Newport saw me and my legs finally start to see some progress. The first week was more like a baptism of fire for me trying to achieve some really fast times on the boards, as well as get used to training at maximum on every effort. The week session was broken up with a 3 hour road ride with two of the team members who really enjoyed the Welsh countryside, apart from the rain which was warm but very wet!

While I was on the camp in Newport, I had the pleasure of being interviewed over the telephone by Stuart Lieberman from the International Paralympic Committee. The IPC (www.paralympic.org) oversee all Paralympic sports across the globe, so it was my pleasure to share my epic life changing story with Stuart and to explain just how my life has changed since becoming a Para-cyclist and also a Paralympic hopeful. I had to explain who “Dewi the Dragon” was and how he was going to help me in London, as my Paralympic mascot.

On 13th July, my-self and the team went to the Crown Plaza Hotel in Central London to have our official suit fitting for the 2012 London Paralympic Games, supplied by retailer Next. It was a brilliant experience for me and everyone who attended, as this was the first time we all had the chance to mingle with our fellow ParalympicsGB athletes from all the other sports who are going to compete in London in August and September.

The journey back to Manchester that night was very slow and certainly a long one, having taken us 6 hours to drive back, as the traffic was bedlam. The next day I was keen to get back on my bike and felt really good on my 2 hour road ride on my TT bike, which was thankfully spent in the sunshine.

Monday 16th July saw the start of my 6 week double training sessions on the track, with me having to do a road ride in the morning, then a full on track session in the afternoon, plus, gym twice a week. I do honestly enjoy these sessions; it’s just a case of working hard and then sleeping through the tiredness before the benefits are seen a few weeks later.

Mid July, I was invited by 2012 London Paralympic partner Deloitte, to a private function to share my experience and my life changing story with some of their young clients in Manchester. Deloitte who is the professional services supporter for both of the London 2012 games and who is among the country’s leading professional services firms, providing audit, tax, consulting and corporate finance services. My talk went really well and I had the pleasure of holding a 2012 Olympic torch, it felt rather serial to actually be holding a real one, however, the evening was a great success and enjoyed by all. On times I still have to pinch myself to realise that I am actually doing what I am doing for my country and it was my pleasure to talk and network with such a fabulous group of professionals.

My last week of training in July saw my track sessions increased and also my time spent on the TT bike. This extra amount of training helps me to overload my body before I start my final few weeks of preparation, for the biggest challenge of my Para-cycling career at the 2012 London Paralympics.

The end of July saw my-self and fellow GB Para-cycling team member Jody Cundy MBE, attend a BBC radio interview called “world have your say” at the Manchester National Velodrome. The interview was live across the World and covered the global excitement that the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics had created. The interview went really well and especially after Bradley Wiggins had just won the Tour De France two days previous, so everyone was on a GB high.

As the biggest sporting event on the planet began at the end of July, the 2012 London Olympic fever hit the UK with style. We saw hundreds of millions of people across the globe watch the opening ceremony in awe and with only 4 weeks to go before the 2012 London Paralympics start, the whole of the UK will be behind every one of our ParalympicsGB athletes.

I am so excited to be a GB Para-cyclist competing at a home Paralympic Games, knowing that very soon I will not only be racing on the same track as Sir Chris Hoy, but with 6500 screaming fans in the stands. This is something that really does get me fired up to do well. I wish all Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes all the very best for the Games and make Britain proud by doing your absolute best!

123 Days and Counting!

UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships Los Angeles, USA – ©Copyright Christina Kelkel

With only 123 days to go until the London 2012 Paralympic Games, I decided to start writing a blog to keep you all in the loop of how things are going and I hope you will all enjoy reading my monthly updates.

2012 has already been quite a year for me having made my international track debut at the Track World Championships in Los Angeles in February. Looking back at it, I have to say it was a very tough and emotional time for me, with my dad falling seriously ill before I went out to LA, and then unfortunately passing away the day before I raced in the final of the 3km Pursuit. I was very close to my dad and I know he wanted me to go to LA and bring back “that Gold” for him, as he knew just how much hard work I had put in over the last 18 months and just how much I wanted to become “World Champion”.

Going into LA, I had two main goals that my coach and I had set out for us to achieve: to win both the Kilo and 3km pursuit. I knew a few weeks before we flew to LA that I was in good shape for the 3km pursuit but really didn’t know if my mind was going to perform as well as my body, with my family issues getting progressively worse every week!

However, my performance in the pursuit went accordingly to plan and I know my coach was very happy with how I coped and performed on the day of the Pursuit. I was expecting to go quickly in Qualifications but never expected to catch and pass Michael Teuber (GER), the world record holder as quickly as I did. I guess this was an unexpected experience for me, which I felt I dealt with very calmly and professionally with, and kept pushing hard to gain a quick time to qualify for the final.

After qualifying, I did actually have a few small issues while trying to get to the 3km Pursuit final, such as another nation protesting against my disability, which I felt might happen due to my very fast improvement over the winter. But once my classification was confirmed as a C1 rider by the UCI, I was able to go into the final with my head held high and focused 100% on my job at hand – becoming a “World Champion”. And in the final, I did just that catching and passing Juan Jose Mendez Fernandez (ESP) after just 6 laps out of 12 to claim my first World Championship Gold medal and rainbow jersey!

UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships Los Angeles, USA – ©Copyright Christina Kelkel

The second task was to win the Kilo, but unfortunately I missed out on the sprint discipline by just 0.278 seconds. And whilst I was disappointed not to win Gold, considering that my training programme going into LA was mainly pursuit based, I was happy with a 4 second personal best time and coming away with a Gold and Silver medal from my first Track World Championships!

My dream of becoming a “World Champion” in Para-Cycling started 2 years ago, when I first started to cycle again after my near fatal paragliding accident. Having raced in Triathlon for a few years albeit as a hobby, I knew just how fit and fast I could become on the bike, it was just a matter of time and lots of hard work. So to now be able to say that I have achieved one of my goals makes me very proud of how far I have come – in such a short space of time.

UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships Los Angeles, USA – ©Copyright Christine Kelkel

The experience of racing for GB in a Track World Championships was like nothing else I have ever experienced in cycling. The adrenaline buzz that you get when that gun goes on the start line and then it’s just you, the track and the clock to decide who takes the win!

Moving forward into London, I know that if I want to achieve all my goals then I have to mix-up my training almost like a decathlete. I have to increase my sprint workload to help me with the Kilo race, plus, continue to become faster and stronger at the Pursuit, as this will help me with my speed for the Road Time Trial race. I enjoy the challenge of the different disciplines and having gained experience of two major world competitions, I now know how my body copes with racing “back to back” on the track and the road. This means I can adapt my training to cope with the demands of performing in a short space of time to win those Gold medals. Being a Podium Funded athlete since winning Gold in LA, I now get the chance to access the best sporting facilities there are for my Para- Cycling career, which will be absolutely essential moving forward and certainly for the preparations for the 2012 London Paralympics.

Currently I am in an endurance phase of my training block, to where by I train heavily every week on the road and also spend time in the gym doing strength work. My training is going very well after a mixture of road and time trial sessions in Mallorca last month, so I am really excited to see exactly how far I have come in one year since I joined the GB Para-Cycling Team in June 2011, when I start back on the track next month. Training in a warm weather climate for me is essential for my preparations and health. As a spinal injured athlete, I can’t naturally regulate my body temperature, which means that my body and muscles almost shut down in the cold weather. This has been a major factor in my training plan with my coach, and we plan to utilise the warm weather camps in Spain and Italy for our preparations for London.

Before London though, I will be riding in both Para-Cycling World Cup races in Italy in May and then Spain in June. I then move back onto the track and time trial phase full time, for my run up to the 2012 London Games in August/September.

Beside training, I will be promoting and talking at various private functions about Pedal Power in Cardiff, a charity which helps to encourage people of all ages onto the bike and for which I am an official Patron. Cycling is not only a healthy way to exercise but also a way of helping to build people’s confidence and social skills at the same time.

I am also planning to do more motivational talks and appearances to pass on my experiences and hopefully inspire people to greater and better things. I regularly visit various organisations and businesses to give motivational talks, but I also visit schools to help the children see what can be achieved in life even after having a life changing experience. I felt that after my accident 3 years ago I could maybe influence other people in my spare time to overcome adversity in a similar way that I did, plus, maybe even help others to find a passion in life, so they would not give up when times get hard.

So I hope that all the people who read this blog will be able to see what is achievable when you put your mind and body into something 100%. I was told a long time ago, that if you want your life to change, then you have to change! So don’t sit back and let the world pass you by, as “Winners never quit and quitters never win”!

Thank you for reading my blog and watch this space for the next one!

 

Mark

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