637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Building a Champion From The Ground Up

In one of my first entries, I said the following:

"Cycling, for the most part, is an individual sport. Whilst I am part of a 'team' and spend part of the year training with the squad, the majority of the work comes down to solo effort. No one else can do the training for you and even in races, although you might be lucky enough to get some help from a teammate, ultimately it comes down to how well you can turn the pedals over."

Still as true today as when I first wrote it (almost a year ago now!). But whilst it's true that cycling is largely a solo endeavour, winning is a true team effort. Not 'team' as in teammates, but the team of support staff that make training, racing and winning possible. I'd like to share a little about these people and the great work they do behind the scenes – and give you some insight into the smaller cogs in the big machine.

For the sake of this post, I'm going to overlook all the sponsors (whether they are monetary or equipment-based). They play one of the largest roles and I'll address them at a later date. This is more about the actual human beings that contribute to the cause of making me go faster on a bike. (I should also note for the benefit of any of them that read this, that you are listed in no particular order!)

Let's start with the organisational support we (the Irish Paracycling team) receive. Cycling Ireland provide us with a team of staff – from Susan in the office who helps arrange our flights, hotels and other logistics – to the men on the ground with us.

Our Team Manager, Denis Toomey, travels with us everywhere constantly working behind the scenes to try and keep up moving forward. He deals with race organisers and sponsors alike. Making sure we have the right clothes on and gets us to the races on time. He takes care of all the little details so we don't have to worry about them. And he does it all for free. (There's a lot more that Denis and the rest of the crew do, but I can't list it all so am just giving a sample).

Gerry Beggs is our faithful mechanic, van driver, father figure and source of comedic relief. He keeps the bikes running, the tyres pumped and in many cases is responsible for getting much of the equipment needed for races to the actual race. Driving the van across Europe on his own time to be there when we fly in several days later. Also unpaid, he is a key member of the team. And all he asks for is the odd pint of Guiness to keep HIS wheels greased.

Then we have the men that make sure we are best-prepared to give the best performance we can – the coaches. Head coach Brian Nugent and development coach Frank O'Leary impart their knowledge to us on a daily basis. Brian develops all the training plans and makes sure I'm doing the right things, day in and day out. Frank helps out at all the races and his Cornering School has quickly become legendary. Without proper coaching and development, I would still just be a guy riding a bike around aimlessly. These man have taught me how to focus my energies in the right direction and get the best out of me that I can.

Manager Denis Toomey and Coach Brian Nugent
I also receive assistance from Paralympics Ireland as we head toward the Paralympics next year. This is much larger organisation with an even larger network of support staff. I don't get the same day-to-day support from these folks as I don't really need it as much, but their aim is ensure that come next September I am as best prepared to win medals as I possibly can be. So to CEO, Liam Harbison and Performance Director, Nancy Chillingworth – and the entire staff at Paralympics Ireland that work tirelessly behind the scenes, making preparations for London and making my life just that much easier – I thank you.

Through Paralympics Ireland, I also have access to a network of support staff that, at times, proves immensely valuable. Sports Psychologist Alan Ringland sorts my head out when I get pre-race jitters, Dr. Joe Conway makes sure my bumps and bruises don't slow me down, Darragh Graham is there to help my muscles and strength to develop properly, Alan Swanton who videotapes me on the bike for later analysis, Antonia Rossiter and Bruce Wardrop oversee the Sports Physiology testing that helps make sure I train the right way and monitor my development over the years and even Sharon Madigon the nutritionist – who tries to make sure I keep my weight down and eat the right things to give myself the best chance to win races. They are all there to help and support me whenever I need it.

And while I hate playing favourites, there is one member of staff, that although I don't see her very often (usually only at major competitions and the odd training camp), has worked magic on me time after time. A very special mention goes out to Fion Kirby – our masseuse. She always has the ability to soothe sore muscles, find and remove any knot, and keep my legs feeling fresh and ready to go for the big races where it matters. My only wish is that I lived closer to her so that she could take care of me all the time! Without her, there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't be able to deliver the top performances when it matters.

Lastly, there are my teammates. They aren't an official support mechanism by any means – but they are the ones that I spend the most time with at training camps and races. We room together, train together, laugh together and complain together. We don't always get along, but deep down inside I want every single one of them to win and do well – and I hope they feel the same way about me. We are all different personalities, but without them life and competition would be a lot more boring. We celebrate each other's wins and commiserate with each other when we lose. Many of these folks have given me guidance and advice over the past few years and it is because of them that I now feel a part of the team.

And so... when you see my hurtling down the road, in training or in competition, all these people (and more) are behind me in spirit. We all have a role to play and even though I may be the one that gets up on the podium to receive medals – they are the ones that often work just as hard as I do to make the winning possible.