22nd October 2010

Ben Rushgrove Interview

22 October 2010

Having celebrated "two years to go" until the London 2012 Paralympic Games on 29 August, athletes on the UKA World Class Performance Programme (Paralympic) will continue be featured on the UKA website. Four times Paralympian Stephen Miller was the first athlete to be profiled earlier this summer, followed by former F44 long jump World Record holder Stefanie Reid and Beijing Paralympic Games silver medallist Libby Clegg. Ben Rushgrove, also a silver medallist in Beijing, is the latest athlete to speak to UKA (below).

Ben Rushgrove drives a silver Mini; “it’s a silver car for a silver medal – the only car in Bath to go through the gates of Buckingham Palace!” he claims, making reference his podium finish in the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 in the T36 100m which, along with other members of Team GB, was rewarded with a visit to the Queen’s official residence.                                                                                                                                              

He says medals alone don’t motivate him, but with two months to go until the IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, such an achievement is surely on his mind?

“In that context, I can’t really explain what it would mean to me (to win),” he says. “It’s so hard, I remember once trying to tell my Granddad – he was ex-Air Force – and I was trying to understand how it must have felt for him during that time; it made me realise that unless you’ve actually been there and experienced it there’s really no adjective to describe it and how amazing it feels. The English language just isn’t adequate.”

It’s a bold statement from an athlete who’s rarely short of words, but Rushgrove, who has Cerebral Palsy, wasn’t always willing to talk. In fact, he credits his years at boarding school in Hampshire, which he attended from the age of ten, with his radical transformation.

“They offered me the specialist support I required to gain the skills and confidence I have today,” he says. “One of the biggest problems I had was my dyslexia, people didn’t seem to cope with that very well, but when I started in Hampshire I was in a class of ten which was amazing. I credit them for so much; they were the people who introduced me to sport and made me the Ben I am now.”

“Before that I wasn’t really any good at sport, although it’s all relative, it’s hard before you’ve been officially classified and you’re competing against people without a disability.”

Having been encouraged to do so, Rushgrove had got involved in a range of sports at school and regularly helped out in a coaching and management role with football and hockey teams. “I actually enjoyed that as much as competing,” he admits. “It was the social interaction, and that’s probably why I chose to study sports at college. At boarding school we’d have free time in the evenings but none of us really wanted that, so I always filled that gap with sport.”

“There was a hugely diverse group of us with a variety of different disabilities. It’s probably given me a greater awareness of different conditions, although I don’t necessarily think it’s made me a better team player.”

As one of 40 athletes selected to represent Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland in New Zealand, he has an integral team role to play. While he might not necessarily consider that his strong point, his current training set-up under coach Rob Ellchuk in Bath – who, he says, “is more than just a coach, he’s a friend, too” –  is invaluable in offering him that experience on a day to day basis.

“We’ve been really successful as a group,” he explains. “The measure is the number of people that come back to the group even when they’ve been away for whatever reason.”

“The other really nice thing about the group is the engagement we have; our training group is so varied with so many people with different skills like PhD students, mechanical engineering students, trainee teachers and Bob Skeleton athletes! It’s good to have that range.”

“They’re not all there because they want to be the next World Record holder, but for what they get out of it each time they go. It is what it is. People really rally around one another and we all want each other to succeed. It works because Rob has built it that way.”

Rushgrove was one of the first UK-based athletes to work with Ellchuk. He’d been talent spotted by UKA at a National Disability Championships event in Blackpool, although he refuses to accept he was one of the best. “I went to that event every year, and although I’m very competitive and love to win, we just used to have a bit of a laugh,” he says. “For a start, our hotel was awful; every year it was just rubbish, but when I turned up to the track I figured that there must have been something else on that weekend because people didn’t turn up to race and it made me look good, even though I ran in walking trainers and swimming shorts. I actually think I borrowed a running top off one of the volunteers!”

Having returned to his hometown of Bath at the end of boarding College, he went straight into university life and with the help of UKA, linked up with Ellchuk. In spite of an injury-plagued career to date, he has never looked back.

Does he think he can regain the form that saw him clock his lifetime best times for the 100m (12.35) in Beijing 2008 and 200m (24.86) in the 2007 Paralympic World Cup?

“Yes, I can go quicker, I’ve got to,” he says. “My preparation for the World Championships to date has been far from ideal, but it’s not dissimilar to what I experienced pre-Beijing.”

“The next 100 days are critical if I’m to be at my best when it matters most. People always say you should be the best you can every day, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we’ve all got flaws – we’re all human – and in my opinion you just need to be at your best when it matters most. If you look at my performance record, you’ll see that I’ve achieved that every time.”

All being well, medal success at the IPC Athletics World Championships will add weight to that argument and with less than two years to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, a second meeting with Royalty must be a possibility…so, as he drives off in his silver Mini, it prompts one final question; what does he actually remember about his first visit to Buckingham Palace?

“Well, I had a huge urge to do doughnuts when I drove into the grounds,” he laughs out loud (hand-break turns for those unfamiliar with the terminology).

And that sums him up perfectly; confident – verging on daring, outgoing and perhaps a little bit crazy, but definitely an athlete you’d want on your team.

These interviews are published first in The Big Read on: http://www.insideworldparasport.biz/

The series continues next month.