David Weir Yet to Wake up After Living the Paralympic Dream
David Weir goes quiet for a few seconds. He gazes out of his car window; taking in not the immaculately clear landscape in front of him now, but the immaculately clear memory of a recent triumph.
“I couldn’t have dreamed it,” he says eventually. “In fact, I still think I’m dreaming it now. I feel like someone’s going to wake me up. I’m still in the village, I’ve just had my little 10-minute nap, and I’m getting ready to race. I’m ready to go. Someone’s going to wake me up.” Then, with all the suddenness of one of his traditional bursts of speed, he pulls clear of his reverie, and snaps back to the present.
Weir has had over a week to appreciate the fact that he is now a quadruple Paralympic champion. Over a week for the sound of the London crowds and the national anthem to subside. Over a week to enjoy his new status as one of this country’s sporting giants, a legend of the Paralympic Games, an outside bet for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. And Richmond Park on a crisp, bright autumn morning is as good a place to reflect as any.
It is on this sweeping, undulating grassland on the edge of London that Weir’s four-pronged surge for glory was born. “It’s the only place close to home that’s safe, really,” he says. “No lorries, a 20mph speed limit. It’s got hills, it’s got flat roads. Look at it now. It’s beautiful. All right, it can be tough in the winter. But I’ve trained all over the world and never found a place like this. It’s just made me the athlete I am today.”
When you are pushing your body to the limit on brutally cold winter mornings, you need all the stimulation you can get.
Weir is the sort of man who thrives on extremes: from sweltering heat to freezing cold, from the serene calm of Richmond Park to the ear-splitting racket of an Ibiza club. Anything to keep things interesting. “I get bored easy,” he explains. It is why he is still refusing to commit to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, another four years of punishing sacrifice.
“Last winter was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “When it’s Christmastime and everything’s shut down, you still have to come out and train. Minus 10 was the coldest. All I was thinking about was the others who are training. If they’re just training indoors on their rollers, I feel like I’m making that little 10 per cent extra effort to come out. If I’m having a bad day, I think of the other guys that are going to beat me.
“That drives me on a little bit more.”
Now 33 years of age, Weir has come to appreciate that the mental discipline his sport demands is as important as the physical. Having already won three gold medals in the 800, 1500 and 5,000 metres, he took to the streets of London for the marathon. And he was struggling. “It just hit me,” he says.
“I started breathing heavily. I really thought I was going to have to pull over, I was struggling that bad.” Amid the din of a cheering crowd and the heavy burden of being home favourite, he delved deep within, and found his quiet place. “I had to forget where I was for a while and think about what I’d done in training. Just blank it all out, really. That’s what won me most of my races: being mentally strong. My body didn’t feel tired; I just thought I was tired.” Everyone knows what happened next.
His future, in the short term at least, is mapped out for him. His partner Emily is due to give birth to the couple’s second child, a girl, at the end of next month.
Tomorrow, though, he will fly to Ibiza for a long overdue holiday, and a chance to indulge in one of his great passions. Weir talks about music – house music in particular – with far greater animation than he talks about wheelchairs.
“I’ve always been into the underground sound,” he says. “I started with house in the late 1980s with my brothers. It was right at the beginning of the house scene, all the illegal raves, big DJs like Jazzy M. As I was getting a bit older, hardcore came out, and drum ’n’ bass.
“The sound systems in Ibiza are just out of this world. Crystal clear. That’s what I like. The louder the better. I like to feel my chest beating over the other side of the room. When I used to go to Ministry of Sound, I used to just sit by the speaker all night.”
In Weir’s penchant for the piercing can be identified one of the secrets of his success. No wonder he was able to thrive in the crucible of the Olympic Stadium.
When you have sat right up against a stack of speakers taller than a man, creating a din that judders every bone in your body, then the exhortations of 80,000 partisan British fans in the Olympic Stadium suddenly seem like a faint buzzing.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “I’m used to noise. It doesn’t affect me.” But then, he checks himself, and you can tell from the distance in his gaze that once more, he is lost in reminiscence. “It’s a different noise, though, isn’t it?”
The original article can be found at: telegraph.co.uk