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Nicholls ready for next journey after achieving Paralympic dream

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Mel Nicholls

17th April 2013  

On the 31st August in front of 80,000 fans, Mel Nicholls (coach: Job King) achieved her dream. In just 18 months, the 35 year old completed a meteoric rise from wheelchair novice, to competing for her country on the biggest stage of them all – the Paralympic Games.

Nicholls marked her major championship debut with a seventh place finish in the T34 200m and fifth in the heats of the T34 100m.

“It was like a dream, but it was real. It’s been what I’d been aiming for in the 18 months since I started in the sport. It was always what I wanted and worked for, but it was a dream and it could have easily not happened.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself, even if people didn’t expect as much – I would have liked to have gone faster but just to have the Paralympic Games as a starting block was unbelievable.”

Nicholls journey in the sport began in 2010 at a British Athletics Talent Identification day, and since that moment, the Tewkesbury-based athlete has not looked back.

“I tried numerous sports after becoming ill, and I have a habit of bugging people, so I was searching the internet for things that I could do.

“I found a flyer from UKA to come and try out wheelchair racing, so I went to Leeds for a weekend, tried out the sport and loved it. I never thought I’d be good at it because it took me a while to get round a lap of the track.

“Job King, who is now my coach, spotted me later in the year and knew a lot more about classification than I did, he saw where I’d be in the structure and thought I’d do quite well. Within a few months I raced at my first competition at Stoke Mandeville in May 2011 where I achieved the Paralympic A standard in all my distances and I truly got the bug from there.”

After seeing her close friend and rival Hannah Cockroft (Jenny Archer) win two gold medals in her class at London 2012, Nicholls believes that the competition spurs her on, as she prepares for an assault on this summer’s IPC World Championships with one eye also focused on Rio 2016.

“Hannah’s brilliant and such a good friend. Despite being younger, she’s a great role model given that she’s been in the sport longer. I get racing advice from her, and she gets more life advice from me so it works really well.

“Off the track we’re really good friends, but on the track she’s a rival – you’re not friends with anyone on the start line, you’re there to do a job. We’re told not to speak to each other leading into competitions, so you’re in the zone and doing your thing before you’re friends again.

“This year, I’m aiming for selection for the World Championships in Lyon, so I start racing in two weeks time at Stoke Mandeville. I’ve got four or five competitions where I’ve got to get the standard – there are not many chances, but hopefully they’re the right ones with the right competition.

“We’re on the Rio cycle, and I’m looking to there, but having never done a four year cycle before, I don’t know what to expect. I’m not worried about it, but I’m looking to improve on my times year on year and improve as an athlete.”

Nicholls has been encouraged by the effect that last year’s Games has had on the country as a whole, and while admitting there is still a long way to go, she believes that hosting high profile events this summer can only benefit the sport moving forwards.

“I think there are some attitudes that are still to change post-Games, but London has changed perceptions a lot. People are seeing us as athletes, not just ‘you’re disabled you can go to the Paralympics.’

“They’re slowly realising it doesn’t quite work like that and also not everybody can win a medal. Having more opportunities like Birmingham and the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games is brilliant – I’m getting emails and messages asking when I’m competing, people actively want to come and see us, which is really exciting.”

Aside from her performances, Nicholls is well renowned for sporting colour when she races, and behind the brightness is a very simple explanation.

“I’m a colourful person - I don’t do beige or dull. My chair’s pink and orange and it’s she's called Dolly because she looks like a Dolly Mixture, so it all stems from there and I like to match.

“Some people say it’s the worst colour combination, but I was at a design festival at the weekend and they all think it’s great so I think I’m just ahead of my time! Usually my socks are one pink and one orange, just like my fingernails.

“At the Games I wrote on my socks the slogan ‘Dream Big’ – it’s my message to the kids to not let any obstacles get in their way and go for their dreams.”

You can follow Mel on her journey on twitter via @Dolly2racer