Countdown to Rio: Rowlings ready to ‘smash it’ after years of ‘selfish’ preparation


When Ben Rowlings lines up on the start-line in Rio, he will know that he could not have done anything more to prepare himself for his bid to win a medal.

The wheelchair racer, who is taking part in his first Paralympic Games at the age of 20 – only five years after being spotted at a British Athletics talent identification day – describes himself as stubborn, single-minded and “quite selfish”.

“I think a lot of athletes have to be quite selfish, and just kind of look after themselves and make sure nothing impacts on their training or the bubble that they are in,” he says.

“But I’m hard-working and I make sure that I put the hours in in training, and the results are showing on the track.”

He has been doing “long, hard sessions” in the gym, two or three times a day, six days a week, and believes there are “very few” of his competitors who will have been able to match that.

But he has also benefited from the peer support he has received as part of the training group set up by ParalympicsGB team-mate Mel Nicholls and her coach, which is based at their athletics club, Coventry Godiva Harriers.

A mixture of disabled children, professional athletes – including fellow Paralympian Kare Adenegan – and enthusiastic amateurs come together in the group.

Nicholls has previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that Paralympic athletes train within the group alongside everyone else. “It’s a social thing, it’s a confidence thing, a health thing and a competitive thing as well,” she said.

Rowlings told DNS this week: “We have got people aged six or seven up to guys that are mid-to-late 40s.

“It’s good to have a varied group of people because if you’re having a bad day in training, one of the little kids will make you laugh… it just kind of takes your mind off the serious side of training a little bit, [and allows you to]enjoy it and take it for what it is.”

The importance of support for Paralympic athletes – a long way from the Channel 4-inspired “superhuman” image – is one he is only too willing to accept.

He says: “I’ve got the easy job. I have to go round in circles, I get the fun bit of it, but without the support of coaches, sponsors, family, friends; without those people behind me I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today.

“I wouldn’t have gone to the world championships, I wouldn’t have medalled at European championships. Without them, I wouldn’t be anywhere.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a good support network around me.”

It’s not only the support of the higher-profile organisations – sponsors BT and Top End, which makes his wheelchairs, and his National Lottery funding – which has been “fundamental” to his success, but smaller organisations, such as The Wrekin Housing Trust, that he says has helped with £100 towards his costs.

“A hundred quid is a set of tyres or it’s a set of gloves or it’s a week training in Loughborough with a really good group [of other athletes].”

Rowlings is competing in Rio in the T34 100 metres and 800 metres, but it is in the two-lap event that he has the strongest chance of medalling.

Ranked in the top four or five in the world at 800 metres, and holder of the British record at 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres, he believes he has a genuine chance of a medal.

“I’m in really good shape, the best shape of my life. Everything has been going really well since I found out about selection. 

“It’ll be a close race, there are four or five guys that will be really competitive going into it, so it will be a good race to be part of.”

Although he is competing first in the 100 metres – where he is ranked in the world’s top eight – he is treating that “as a kind of warm-up for the 800”.

Ideally, he would be racing in a 400 metres as well but there is only a 100 metres and 800 metres in his impairment category in Rio.

“I prefer 400 to 800 just because there’s less to think about,” he says, “you just go as hard as you can for one lap and whoever’s the quickest will get it.

“With the 800 you have to think a little bit more. You have to react so quickly if there’s a break off the front, you have to cover it immediately.

“If there’s a guy coming off the back you have to make sure you’re in the right position to follow him.”

He has known there will be no 400 metres in Rio for the last couple of years, so he’s been able to work on his strategy for the longer race.

“It’s something I’ve been able to plan for,” he says. “I know how to race in every single scenario that could possibly come up in Rio, so I’m going to make sure I’m in the best position when that bell goes for the final lap.”

Despite his strong chance of a medal, his target is just to reach the final of the two events.

“I think once I’m in the final anything could happen,” he says. “Guys could false start, it could be raining, the race could just pan out perfectly for me, or it could pan out horribly.

“I know I’m working harder than most of the other guys on the start line, I know I’m in the best shape possible, I know I’ve [taken care of]every little detail I could possibly do going into Rio.”

Like many of the ParalympicsGB team, he is careful in his responses to some of the more controversial questions put to him by DNS.

On the International Paralympic Committee’s failure to store urine and blood samples from medallists at the Beijing and London Paralympics, so they can be retested in the future, he says: “I have no idea. My job is to go round in circles.

“I know I get drug tested, I know that UK Anti-Doping have been really hot on making sure that everyone at Paralympic standard is a clean athlete and I know I’m 100 per cent clean.

“As far as what the IPC does with their samples, I have no idea.”

On the low number of Paralympic tickets sold by the Brazilian organisers – just 12 per cent, when we spoke at the start of this week – he says that he sees that as an opportunity “to open it up to schools and get a fresh audience in”.

He adds: “It’s a Paralympic Games, the biggest competition a lot of us athletes will ever race at, and I think it will be a real step forward for the Paralympic movement if we can get schools and younger spectators [to attend]and show this is what Paralympic sport is, just [as]they did in London.”

But he does speak out on one highly controversial topic, the government’s reassessment of working-age disabled people claiming disability living allowance (DLA) for the new personal independence payment.

He has been told he will be reassessed next year, and it is something that concerns him, particularly as he uses his DLA mobility support to lease a Motability vehicle.

He says: “It is something that’s on my mind because without the access to having my Motability car… I wouldn’t be able to get to any of the training that I do.

“I need my car, I need the support to get me around to places, and training and work, because racing is my job, and without the support of the Motability [car]and the DLA, I wouldn’t be able to get to training.”

And he says he knows fellow Paralympians have already had their Motability vehicles taken away after being reassessed for PIP.

Putting such controversies aside, what he looks forward to most of all in Rio is the racing.

“I worked my backside off for four years,” he says. “I’m going to make sure I race it well, being able to show myself on a world stage.

“It’s a 400 metre track that I have to go around twice, and I’ve raced the guys all year round, I know them inside and out, I’ve done everything I can in training to make sure I’m ready for that race at Rio, and I’m just going to smash it.”

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