Thursday, 1 December 2011

Happy Birthday to.... this blog!

It was one year ago today that I made my first post on this blog. And what a year it has been. No better time than today to look back and reflect on the past year!

When I started this blog, it was my intention to chronicle my journey to qualifying for, and ultimately participating in the London 2012 Paralympics. A year ago I had no idea if I would be riding in the Paralympics, let alone if I would remain a member of the Irish Paracycling team. The 2010 Road World Championships in Canada hadn't gone well for me and I was questioning whether or not I had a future in the sport. But I decided to train hard over the winter and give myself one more kick at the can at the Track World Championships last March. If I didn't get some results there, I would pack it in.

A hard winter of training paid dividends and I managed two 6th place finishes in my track events, putting me back in the picture for London and giving me a spot on the Paracycling squad for the upcoming season. There was a glimmer of life in my cycling career after all! But this was just the start of the hard work, and the start what has been a fantastic year of competition.

I got to work straight away – putting in place a plan that would (hopefully) lead me to achieving my goals for the year. First up, I had to address the issue of my artificial leg. I didn't have a cycling-specific prosthetic and this was costing me valuable time and energy in races. As chronicled here, I contacted Pace Rehabilitation and together we designed and built a purpose-built custom carbon cycling leg. Over time this would prove to be a turning point in my career. 

The leg was put through it's paces shortly thereafter when I travelled to Australia for the first World Cup race of the season. The number of riders there was smaller than usual and the level of competition not as great as at the World Championships, but I still came away with a 2nd place finish in the road race. But it was the following day, in the time trial, that the first big surprise of the year came. I managed to beat the reigning World Champion for the first of what would turn out to be many times. It was proof-positive that I was on the right track to success and that the new leg was doing it's job. And it proved to me that I had what it takes to win on the big stage. It was the confidence boost I needed to keep me going through the rest of the season.

It wasn't all gold medals this year though. The next World Cup race in Spain saw things go rather differently. Frustratingly I managed a silver medal in the time trial, losing out by a mere 0.4 of a second. And the following day in the road race, on a course that actually suited me well, I broke a spoke and finished well out of the points. I managed to hold onto the World Cup overall lead, but it now would require a small miracle to win the overall tittle.

It was in search of the overall win that saw me travel to Canada in July for the final stop of the World Cup series. I was back at the site of perhaps my greatest failing – the site of the World Championships almost a year earlier that had nearly broke me and made me give up cycling for good. And even though my races went significantly better this time around, I still fell short of the points I needed to win the title. Still – it was a good lesson to me, and losing there taught me not to assume I would win every race, and showed me that I would have to work even harder if I wanted to win the World Championships.

September meant another trip to the World Championships – this time on the relatively flat roads of Denmark. It was a contest I had been preparing for, in one form or another, for a whole year. Since I found out where it was going to be, I knew that I had a chance to win. I knew I had to work for it, but with the right preparation I was confident I could pull out a win. And I didn't disappoint! I achieved my year-long target of a win in the World's in the time trial.

And so – a year ago the blog was a chance to remind myself of my struggles as a disabled cyclist and document my attempts to qualify for the Paralympics, but since then it has grown to be so much more. By virtue of my win in Denmark and my performances this past year, I have assured myself of a spot on the team in London (assuming I maintain my fitness and results of course!). So now the focus of the blog has shifted somewhat to looking at my preparations for my remaining competitions (Track World Championships in Los Angeles in February) and then London.

But it also now gives a chance to thank some of the great companies that have come on board to sponsor me with equipment. I enjoy being able to review the products I use and share my impressions of them – as well as why I use them and why I recommend them – with the public.

One year down, and only 272 days to go now. I know the Games will be here before I know it and even though there is a massive amount of training and racing to be done before walking into the Olympic stadium next August, the excitement builds on a daily basis now. No longer are the Paralympics a distant dream, but a very real competition that must be planned for and meticulously prepared for. 

In the coming months I will continue to chronicle the build-up to the Track World's and continue to share my reviews of the products I use. And I'll continue to talk about what the Games mean to me and how I'm dealing with the stresses and pressure of getting ready. And hopefully, in about 273 days from now once my first race in London is finished, I'll be able to write about how it felt to win my first medal!

Thanks to all who have supported me this past year and followed the blog so far – and thanks to all those who will be supporting me over the next year.