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dave henson's road to rio: paralympic games reflections

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In his third and final Paralympic Games blog piece, T42 200m bronze medallist Dave Henson reflects on his experience of competing in Rio, as well as his plans for the near future.

The prospect of competing at a Paralympic Games became very real once everything started properly happening – we had a feed in our apartment, so even though we weren’t actually at the athletics stadium for the first couple of days, so to see British athletes standing on the podium and bringing back medals really emphasised what was ahead, and I knew my time was coming.

As you might imagine, the nerves started to kick in a little, as did the sense of occasion. The support I saw on social media - as well as back home - started to build at the same time, so it got very real very quickly in the couple of days beforehand, and before I knew it my turn to step out onto the track had come.

Much was said of the atmosphere and crowds out in Rio, but after all the negativity and what not in the build-up; I can only say that from my own experience the atmosphere in the Estadio Olimpico was absolutely crazy. I mean, I’ve competed at the Olympic Park in London a couple of times and the atmosphere there is incredible, but in Rio the atmosphere had something of a Brazilian edge to it.

There was so much noise when we walked out for the heats, and it was something that extended beyond just being for Brazilian athletes - they welcomed every single athlete, and I think that’s the way they enjoy watching sport: they want to go and watch, and they want to cheer as loud as they possibly can.

Looking back at my 200m heat I definitely went a little bit off piste in regards to my race plan, I got a bit carried away and the nerves took hold. With my running style, I was a little nervous about being in lane three - it’s a bit tighter and I thought it might’ve hindered my run - so when the gun went, I pushed out as hard as I could.

I actually got a reasonable start, but I just found myself chasing the Sri Lankan guy on the outside of me in lane four, so I ended up carrying a bit too much speed coming off the bend. When we reached the straight, I had a bit of a wobble and I thought ‘this could be it – Paralympic dream over’, but I managed to just about hold it together to make the final which was a bit of a lucky escape; all because I was too focused on chasing some guy in the next lane!

On the back of that near miss, I went into that final with the mind-set that I’d be taking a medal, and I didn’t for a minute doubt it, but again I kind of saw myself off a little bit with my start.

Having lined up and what not, we all got into the ‘on your marks’ position, and the thing you’re used to, as an athlete, is hearing ‘set’ come next, but instead there was someone calling out over the tannoy to ask for quiet from the crowd. It shouldn’t have thrown me, but it did, and I got my positioning a little wrong - my start isn’t my strongest point anyway, so if I’d have managed a better one I may well have been in a better position, as well as feeling more comfortable too.

I certainly had more work to do on the home straight than I should’ve done, but I knew it was possible, and more than anything I wanted to come home with a medal  and a teddy for my daughter, so to pull it out the bag was so, so, pleasing.

Don’t get me wrong, the moments spent waiting for the results to show on the screen seemed very, very, long, but having anticipated winning a medal, it was a relief to see my name show in the bronze position. I mean, I was fairly certain I’d got it, I knew I’d passed the guy who was in the bronze position, but I knew it was close, and the last thing I wanted to do was start celebrating and set myself up to look like an idiot.

Even now, it’s kind of difficult to reflect on the achievement of it, as well as the Games as a whole. It was such good fun and I feel like I’ve achieved a lot, but I think it’ll start sinking in properly when the homecoming stuff starts kicking off in a few weeks’ time, for now I’m sort of floating in the bubble of it all from day to day.

In regards to competing, it’s most likely the plan to carry on now; Rio was an incredible experience and one I’ll never forget, so as long as I can keep going and my body is willing, I will.

At the moment I’m obviously pretty tired and looking forward to a couple of weeks off to look at a plan for going forward; whether that plan is London 2017 [World ParaAthletics Championships] or aiming at a different colour medal in Tokyo [Paralympics, 2020], I’m not sure yet.

That answer won’t come for another few weeks once I’ve recovered and reflected on this experience – I love the track and I’m not giving it up - it’s just whether or not it remains the sole focus going forward for me, I’m the type of person who very much takes each competition as it comes.

Right now I’ll take a good long break away from the track, but training-wise I’ll be back in the gym and back on the roads by the end of next week probably, I’ll aim to get some miles into my legs to keep developing my running style, but it’ll be probably be early November before I get back out on the track.

I’m going to take some time out with my family around Christmas time to get away from everything, but in the meantime, I’m back to work next week in the lab at my University [Imperial College London], so it’s back to concentrating on the other elements of my life. I’m not going to lose anything due to taking some time off from the track, so it’s time to concentrate on the other aspects of my life once again now.

Seeing my family at the airport after I landed was mega, my daughter is still really young so she changes an awful lot in just a few weeks – she’s stringing sentences together now, so it makes you aware of what you miss and what you sacrifice to pursue these kinds of dreams. For me it’s getting my life back on track in all aspects now, rather than just the literal track.

Thanks for following my Rio journey, see you next season,

Dave