Leo Johnson (2011)
Leo describes his amazing experience in the 2018 for Team England at the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association Games.
I had a very eventful summer as I competed in the 2018 Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) Games for Team England. My training in the 2 months before the games was intense. The sessions focused on developing more speed and my anaerobic capacity before "tapering down" to give my body some rest in preparation for what was to come. Although one notable session involved swimming 100 metres as fast as I could 16 times!
Team England flew out to Sant Cugat in Spain on 6th August. After arriving, we had a team briefing where the initial logistics of the opening ceremony and anti-doping protocols were explained. This was the moment when the reality of the Games struck me: I came out thinking, "It’s show time!"
The opening ceremony was quite an experience! There were teams from more than 20 countries with hundreds of competitors and it was great to meet and interact with lots of new people. There was also one particular speaker, a veteran of several CPISRA World Games and a multiple Paralympic medallist, who gave a moving speech about the battles he has fought having Cerebral Palsy, what the Games mean to him and what they had enabled him to achieve. He urged us to put all our fears and nerves behind us and go out and enjoy the experience.
The next few days were fairly repetitive in routine. We would get up at around 7:30 am, having an hour and a half to train in the pool. I was under strict orders from my coach on what training I should do each day! We would then go to the athlete’s canteen for breakfast, making sure to put away some serious calories. The subsequent down time in the afternoon and evening was an opportunity to get to know my teammates across the different sports.
Then the first day of racing was upon us. I had the 200m Individual Medley (IM) and the 100m backstroke. They were well spread out, one at 11:00am and one at 7:05pm. I was nervous going into the IM with the new rule on single arm butterfly meaning disqualification was a possibility for me. I ended up winning by close to 40 seconds, avoiding a disqualification and matching my personal best time! So, I got to stand atop the podium in front of my parents and hear God Save the Queen - to be honest, it was a blur as I was buzzing from the adrenaline.
The 100m backstroke was far more competitive and I was not expecting a medal. I missed my personal best by 0.3 seconds, but somehow took the gold! This time I took the medal ceremony more in my stride and soaked up the National Anthem and sang along.
I struggled to sleep the night before the 400m freestyle. This was the event I had trained for the most. An old coach of mine used to tell me sprinting is all nerves but in endurance events you have to tap into something inside. I said to myself, "Keep your head, your body knows what to do". I was nervous and I remember shaking. When I got in the pool, I just raced it… and I won by 20 seconds, just shy of my best time by 0.12 seconds. This time the emotion really hit me, I could not physically get out of the pool afterwards from the exertion.
My next step is to give all I have to trying to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Trials. I would love to qualify for and compete at a Paralympic Games! Swimming is a coping mechanism for me. It provides a competitive output for me to immerse myself in and distract me from the various daily challenges of being an adult with Cerebral Palsy. The biggest lessons swimming is teaching me is how to cope with high pressure scenarios and what it takes to just perform to the best of my ability, no matter what the circumstances.
Several teachers at St James used to take the time to speak to me about my disability especially when I was going through a rough patch. The method that they helped me develop about how think about a range of situations and handle them has proved to be invaluable in my swimming career thus far and I certainly owe them a thank you!