GOOD days, bad days, Maria Lyle has bolted through them all. Teenage prodigies have a nasty habit of burning brightly and then burning out. But Dunbar’s dynamo of the sprinting scene has made it to the ripe old age of 21 with sanity intact and career still on track. It has required effort, but it is all worth it, she says.
Lyle enters the fray at Tokyo’s Paralympic Games tonight on a mission to complete her set of major championship titles. The T35 100 metres is the first of two gambits this week, an opportunity to supplement the silver and two bronzes she earned in Rio in 2016.
Having landed her maiden European crown in Swansea at the age of 14, there has been a careful management process to guide her through growing pains and the parallel ebbs and flows of her cerebral palsy. Spicing up the mix, she admits, has been the mental health issues with which she has had to contend.
“I wasn’t really in a good place mentally when I was 16,” she says. “That’s something I only really addressed in 2018 when I was diagnosed with anxiety. And I put in processes to help me deal with that which has made be stronger mentally
“I still have good days and bad days like everyone else does, I suppose. But that’s made a big difference with me as an athlete.”
So too has understanding more about how to manage her condition, while finding ways to improve acceleration and strength.
But she said: “I suppose I understand my body now and how to deal with things and I appreciate the neural flows more so I can incorporate that into training. There’s certain ways that I’m stronger now as a result of that but the big thing is my body settling down after puberty. I was just 16 in Rio whereas now I’m 21.”
With no relay option on offer this time, it will be the 100-200 sprint double that will command Lyle’s attentions. A pair of golds at June’s European Championships in Poland came in times just shy of her personal best.
“I took a lot of confidence from the way I was able to pick up running in that sort of environment again,” she says.
However the opposition in Japan remains unknown. China’s best are only now emerging from behind the Red Curtain to reveal themselves. However Lyle and her coach, the world medallist Jamie Bowie, have run simulations back at base in East Lothian for whatever is thrown her way.
“The world’s been so different with the pandemic so the Paralympics aren’t really unusual in that respect. For me, it’s just been about preparing as normally as possible to be ready to compete with whatever comes along.”
But she is aiming high.
“I’d love the two golds. Of course that’s a nice dream. But it’s going to be tough. Coming home with any medal would be great.”