Paralympics: Melanie Woods turns adversity into drive for success

SELF-DOUBT is every athlete’s greatest weakness. Those nagging doubts that creep in when you’re pushing your body to extremes, often in unfavourable and challenging conditions, to try to achieve a goal that may not even be possible.

Melanie Woods has been through it all. The 27 year-old is still in the relatively early stages of her career as a wheelchair athlete following a serious cycling accident three-and-a-half years ago that forced her to re-evaluate what she wanted out of life.

Determined not to wallow in self-pity, the former PE teacher has delayed her return to the classroom to throw herself full-time into athletics to see how far she could take it. It has not always been easy, the hours spent training in her garage over winter and the laps of the park in the rain, driving herself on until her arms were aching, prompting many moments of soul-searching.

Vindication that she has made the right choice has arrived much sooner than expected with the Glasgow-based athlete a surprise call-up to the Team GB Paralympics squad where she will compete in the T54 400m and 800m, an announcement that was welcomed with relief as it was joy and shock. All that training so far had not been for nothing.

“Nobody else can tell you to commit to something or to try to achieve something,” she revealed.

“So I had to remind myself that what I was doing was the correct decision for me, all the hours training in the garage over the winter going for something that I wasn’t sure if I could achieve. I was training away and committing myself wholeheartedly to something that I had no idea how close I could get to.

“But you have to back yourself and remind yourself why you’re doing all that. And getting to the Paralympics has given me confidence that this career is achievable and in three years’ time I know I’ll be much better and stronger in Paris for the next one.

“I thought maybe at the end of summer I’d be at a crossroads and that would be the time to make the call on whether I could keep going full-time or not. But now I’m going to keep going for a wee while yet. I’ve put off any major decisions for a bit longer.

“When I get back from Tokyo I’ll look again at what I want to achieve over the long term and what I need to do to achieve it. Ultimately I would love to pursue this full-time but that would mean I need to get support to do that. It can’t be just a solo adventure. But it’s all been worth it so far.”

Woods was awarded a place on the Paralympic Future Academy Programme with a view to going to Paris in 2024.

Her performances at the WPA European Championships in Poland earlier in the year, however, signalled that she was accelerating towards elite level faster than expected in a sport she only took up two years ago.

“It was a massive shock to be selected for Tokyo if I’m honest,” says the Red Star AC athlete. “I didn’t think for a second that I would be going.

“The events of the past year or so have really surpassed all my expectations. I’d been asked a few times if Tokyo was on the cards and I don’t think I was being overly pessimistic when I felt it was far too soon for me at this point in my career.

“But I went to the Europeans and really enjoyed that experience. I had a feeling that I had more to give that season. There hasn’t been one particular moment or change that has made me go faster I wouldn’t say.

“It was more about piecing different parts together and just competing more as I’ve still not had an awful lot of race experience. To then do a Paralympic qualifying time the week before selection was just madness.”

Woods and her coach Rodger Harkins are looking to enjoy the Tokyo experience without putting too much pressure on her to achieve.

“I’m at the stage that I’m still progressing. I’ve not hit my peak and I’ve got a lot more to give. Every race is about finding out what I’m capable of and what I can do differently to improve and get stronger.

“The good thing about going into the Paralympics is that I don’t have any expectations. I don’t feel like there’s any real pressure on me. I’ve been picked to have the experience and so I have to keep reminding myself that it’s very early on for me in the sport. Hopefully just being here and experiencing it all will help me in future times to come.

“I just have to try to soak it all up. It’s a Paralympic Games and when I started off racing I never knew if I would ever get to one. And now I’m here so I just have to enjoy it.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992