The Paralympian Experience

It has now been 6 weeks since the closing ceremony at Rio Paralympics, and this seems like the perfect time to write and reflect on the journey up to and including the games. It has been incredible, when people ask me about about it I often find it hard to put it into a few words – but it was amazing, inspirational and definitely worth all the hard work gone into the campaign!

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It has been an incredibly tough year leading up towards the games, but it all seemed to happen so quickly and before I knew it, we were on our way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.I was definitely very nervous and had a bit of a culture shock when I arrived, but by the time day two rolled, I was getting into the spirit and making the most of the village life. The village was definitely a very lively, atmospheric place, there were 4,333 athletes from 159 countries there – all participating in 22 sports. New Zealand had 31 athletes and only occupied 2 floors (including staff) which doesn’t seem like much compared to countries who would occupy a whole building (i.e. China)! The apartment buildings and landscaping including pools, gardens, etc looked like we were staying at a resort!

The velodrome was decked out in Rio colours, and Hannah and I loved the track. Not all velodromes are shaped the same, but this one had longer straights which was similar to the velodrome we’d raced on in Montichiari, Italy for worlds earlier this year so it felt familiar. We kicked racing off on the second day of the Paralympics with the kilo (also known as the 1km time trial). We were happy to start with that race, as it isn’t a target event but gave us that opportunity to dial in the warm-ups, etc before our target event – 3km individual pursuit which was two days later.

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Our families came to Rio to watch, so before the kilo I was stoked to see them in the crowd – my parents, sister and partner Grant were sitting in the stands along with the other NZ supporters, all with matching t-shirts which looked cool! In the kilo, we came 6th, making a personal best time of 1.11 which we were really happy with. Afterwards, we warmed down and recovered and came back in two days’ time for our big race – the pursuit. I was so nervous, I wanted to cry! In these situations you have to try block out those thoughts and focus on doing your warm-up well and prepare for the race both mentally and physically.

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There is a lot of listening involved in track racing, especially when pursuiting as you have to control your lap times so you can finish well, so in each lap we have a coach call out the times of our laps, we also have a second person call out how many laps we have to go. For a Deaf or hearing impaired person to be able to hear both clearly is a huge ask – especially when wearing an aero helmet that covers the microphones essentially muffling the sounds. But at this time and stage, Cochlear implants are the best possible equipment to help impaired hearing so I already had the best chance I could get. And they definitely did help! First, I listen to the countdown beeps and then the final beep before we start from the gates then I listen for my pilot to instruct me to ‘sit’ after we’ve got the bike up to speed. Then I listen to the lap number call, then straight after that I listen for the lap times – I hear those two in each lap. When we finish, sometimes my pilot will give instructions on when we will stop. We finished the qualifying round with another personal best time of 3.33 and made the bronze finals! We were ecstatic to ranked 4th as it was a very close call with the Irish tandem by milliseconds, however we only had a very short turnaround till our next race – about 2 hours (normally it is about 6 hours). So we recovered as best as we could by refuelling, ice baths, stretching then straight back into the warm-up!

We were up against a GB sprinters tandem who had won gold in the kilo a few days prior, and off we went! Unfortunately for us, they decided to take a tactic strategy and sprint from the gates, catching us by third lap which meant they took bronze and we came fourth. It was devastating for us to miss out on a podium spot but after we got over our loss, we celebrated our 4th placing. To get to the bronze finals at our first Paralympics is a moment I’ll never forget.

We had a few days to rest before re-focusing on road. Even though we haven’t had a lot of focus on road, it was decided we would still race in the road time trial and road race. We finished 9th in the time trial, which was a basic out and back flat course but up against tough competition. Then we had our final race, the road race. It was an exciting race, we threw in a couple attacks from the start, it was an extremely tough course but we did well to finish 11th, just narrowing missing out on 10th. Hannah and I used the Cochlear mini mic2+ during the road race so she could communicate with me which was great, I was able to follow her instructions and we worked really well together on the tandem. It was important to be able to hear her instructions especially when we were attacking at the beginning or when I needed to know if a hill was coming up and how long/far it was to the top, etc. In both road events, we finished with absolutely nothing left – it was incredibly hard racing in the heat but an amazing experience which I’m glad I got to share with my family there supporting us.

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For our final two days at Rio, I spent a little time with my family before they left to go home and also some R&R at the village. The entire NZ team went to the closing ceremony which was amazing, everyone was celebrating the Paralympics and the success of the games in Rio, as well as letting our hair out after long training campaigns. A well-earned fun night out! There was a few speeches and a lot of dancing and music, it was amazing to be able to hear all the sounds pumping around the place.

I’m now home and recovered from an intense year, the Paralympics was a surreal experience and I’m so proud to be called a Paralympian! It was definitely not an easy road but it was worth all the hard work and determination gone into it.

A special thanks to Cochlear for giving me an opportunity to be able to compete at this level, it is still incredible that a small thing as a cochlear implant can open so many doors like it has for me and being able to be a competitive stoker, I’m glad to be able to share my story and hopefully inspire other Cochlear recipients 🙂

‘Til next time,
Amanda

Images supplied by Getty.

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