When sporty Michael Taylor had his leg amputated five years ago, he lifted himself up by watching the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 and set himself the goal of being at the next one.
And now the Bristol medical student is settling in to the Paralympic experience in Tokyo, having won a place to represent Team GB in the triathlon.
Five years ago, Michael was an avid sportsman and played lots of team sports. But then he got an infection so bad it destroyed the joint of his ankle, and he had to have it amputated.
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“I think that it took a big knock to my confidence and sense of identity as previously I had been pretty sporty, independent, and never seriously unwell,” he said.
“I was uncomfortable initially being reliant on others and having to ask for help. I missed being able to compete in team sports such as water polo and rugby, which is why I decided to take up triathlon. Although it’s an individual sport, it allowed me to train with others. The social side of sports helped me to regain confidence and develop a new sense of myself.”
One of the first things the recovering youngster did back in 2016 was watch the Paralympics to take inspiration from the GB heroes winning gold medals galore out in Rio. So he decided that he would make sure he would be there at the next Paralympics – but, like the rest of the world, has been hampered by the covid pandemic.
And when your chosen event is actually three disciplines – running, swimming and cycling – it makes training that much harder.
Michael, who is a second-year student at the University of Bristol, comes from North Devon, so had an advantage – empty roads to cycle on and the sea to train for the swimming in – neither of which were closed or locked down.
“I was quite lucky in that it didn’t have too much of an effect. I struggled in the first lockdown as all the swimming pools and gyms were closed but fortunately, I was still able to get out to run and cycle. Also, I moved back down to my parents in North Devon so when it got warmer I was able to do a bit of sea swimming. In the autumn, I moved to Bristol and was lucky to be given elite athlete status so was able to use the pool and gym at Bath University from then on,” he explained.
“The main impact was on racing and Paralympic qualification because everything was being cancelled and we weren’t sure if the Paralympics was even going to happen, so there was just a lot of uncertainty,” he added.
The 25-year-old will compete for Great Britain in the Paralympic triathlon, swimming 750m (just under half a mile), cycling 20km and running 5km at the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay this coming Saturday, August 28.
“It was a goal I set myself in 2016 following my injury,” he said. “So it feels pretty incredible to be here. As a kid, I had always dreamed of competing internationally so to have qualified for the Games is amazing.”
Michael has been out in Japan since mid-August, training and acclimatising in Miyazaki, a city south of Tokyo. The Covid restrictions are less strict there, so he’s been out and about exploring, as well as training for the big day.
“Because we’re not in the village it’s quite quiet, but the Japanese people have been really friendly and hospitable – they can’t seem to do enough for us,” he said. “We’ve been assigned some volunteers to help us with any shopping or sort out anything we need. We haven’t really been able to interact with many locals or go into any spaces like shops and restaurants but the hotel we are in is great so there is no need.”
Michael flies in to Tokyo today (Tuesday, August 24), to give himself four days of final preparations ahead of the triathlon for athletes in the PTS4 category. Wherever he finishes on Saturday, Michael will feel like a winner anyway.
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“It has given me huge confidence and a massive sense of achievement,” he added. “I feel really lucky and fortunate because it’s been a real team effort and I couldn’t have done it without all the help I have received from the University and other organisations. The amount of support from friends and family has been also been incredible. It’s been lovely to feel so much love from everyone.
“Now I feel happy and strong again because I have reached some of the goals I set myself and feel like I have got back on track to where I wanted to be,” he added.