Sprinter John McFall based in Cardiff is one of the 36 athletes due to represent GB at the Paralympics in September. Over the next few months, www.ukathletics.net will be the first to hear about John’s preparations in an exclusive online diary
Part 1 - The day after the team announcement
Following my motorbike accident in 2000, I taught myself to run with a prosthetic limb in 2002 and gradually did more; six years on I’m ready for my first Paralympic Games.
I started training with Swansea Harriers, but I didn’t have a sprinting prosthesis – my ‘day’ leg wasn’t really effective – the leg would break, in fact the hydraulic cylinder used to explode and fluid would spill on to the track.
So, I went to my Prosthestist and asked what I could do in 2003. He suggested that they could make me a sprinting prosthesis, paid for by the NHS. As an amputee you have an everyday leg that I call my ‘day’ leg and there is an option of getting a second limb for another activity like running. I went back to finish my Final year at University in Swansea in September 2003 and started training more at Swansea Harriers.
Actually before then, If I go back a step to April 2003, when I was wondering if there was any point pursuing my running, I contacted Disability Sport Wales for some advice. I went to Cardiff one evening and demonstrated what level I was at, running on the track. It was Anthony Hughes (coach to seated throws athlete Nathan Stephens now) who saw me run, his exact words were unrepeatable but basically said if I could get the right prosthesis then I could be ***** amazing!
One step at a time
It was just one step at a time really. My first competitions as an amputee were in 2004, I had one in Germany and another in Belgium, Disability Sport Wales helped me out, they organised my competitions. My first event in the UK was the DSE Championships in 2004.
Later that year, I was fortunate enough to go to the Paralympics in Athens with Disability Sport Wales, I had just finished my degree in Sport & Exercise Science so I combined my academic work and interest as an athlete, I really benefited from the first hand experience. I remember watching the final of the 100m, of what is now my event. I knew some of the competitors from Germany, France and Italy. There were no British athletes.
When I came back from Athens, I was still training down in Swansea, and then started my Masters degree. Then in March 2005, I started training with Darrell Maynard at Cardiff and moved my base to Cardiff, my training really started to progress.
I was selected for GB & NI to compete at the 2005 European Championships in Espoo, but that summer I hadn’t reached the qualifying standard, I ran 13.6 seconds for the 100m which was just outside. At the DSE Championships, that was my last opportunity, but I didn’t achieve the standard, so I was quite shocked to be selected. I wasn’t on any funding then. It was great to compete at my first international Championships and get Bronze in the 200m.
On the World Class Programme
The next funding cycle started in December 2005, then I went on to the World Class Plan at Podium level. I had just finished my Masters and had been working part-time for Disability Sport Wales. As a funded athlete, I started to have access to everything; sports science support, massage, strength & conditioning coaches etc. The support really helped me to grow as an athlete. I started to regard myself as a full-time athlete, the 2006 World Championships was my next goal. My times had dropped again. Won two medals at the Worlds, Silver in the 100m and Bronze in the 200m.
Now in 2008, I am a full-time athlete, I have been since August last year. I usually do my track sessions in the morning and do weights in the afternoon on the days when I double up sessions. The athletes in my training group include Tracey Hinton (visually impaired sprinter), Richard Hill and Di Greene.
My programme is much more tailored to me. For most of my sessions, it is just me and my coach Darrell, sometimes there are some other sprinters doing similar sessions.
I’m really looking forward to Beijing now, I guess it’s been my goal since 2006.
All my immediate family are coming out to support me. It’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to putting all the hard work to good use and perform at my best….
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got time for now – I’ll let you know how my final preparations are in July.