University of Bristol: Bristol medic eyes gold after fulfilling sporting ambition to make Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Michael Taylor will swim 750m, cycle 20km and tackle a 5km run at the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay on Saturday (28 August).

It’s an ambition the 25-year-old vowed to fulfill after watching the Olympics in Rio shortly after having his leg amputated.

“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.”

Incredibly, the second-year medical student only took up the endurance multi-discipline race a few years ago, switching from team sports as a means of coping after a joint infection destroyed his ankle.

He explained: “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.

“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.”

Thankfully, the arrival of COVID-19 didn’t scupper his plans, and coming from Barnstaple in Devon, the qualified physiotherapist was able to complete his swimming training in the sea, with most facilities closed. However it was touch and go as to whether the Games would go ahead.

He said: “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.

“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.”

With the Games finally due to kick off today, a year later then planned, Michael is closer to realising his dream than ever. He is currently training in Miyazaki, a city south of Tokyo, where he has been staying since 13 August. Laxer COVID restrictions mean he’s been able to practise his disciplines outside, while exploring his new surroundings.

“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.”

After acclimatising to the weather and adjusting to the new time zone, Michael will fly into the capital on Tuesday giving him four days to make final preparations ahead of the gruelling event in category PTS4. However one thing is clear, whatever his position on Saturday, Michael has already won.

“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.”

Also waving the flag for Team GB is Law graduate and para-badminton ace Dan Bethell. This is the sport’s debut at the Paralympics and the 25-year-old is hoping to capitalise on his SL3 World Championship in 2019 to land a space on the podium.

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