Transcript: David Weir – Elite Wheelchair Racer (Max#19)

Here is the transcript of the inspiring interview with David Weir, British Wheelchair Champion, as he draws on the highs and lows he’s experienced in his career and what drives him to maximise his potential and be successful in life.

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Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Welcome back everyone to episode 19 of the Maximise Potential podcast David Weir has single handily rewritten the sport of wheelchair athletics throughout the world. This phenomenal athlete has won four London Marathons three of those consecutively. At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics he won two gold’s, a silver and a bronze. He holds every British record from the sprints to the marathon plus numerous world records and to top it all he has a MBE yet when I had the opportunity to meet David after a regular morning training session at Richmond Park I was taken aback by how down to earth and humble he is and how different the off the track David Weir is to the on the track person. Here is our unique opportunity to learn more about the highs and lows of David’s career what drives him to be a winner and his goals for London 2012 and beyond. Please enjoy.

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We know that wheelchair athletics and racing for you has been a huge chunk of your life right the way through but where did it start I mean it started literally right at a young age for you didn’t it.

David: Yeah it started when I was about eight I um was at my school which is based in Kingston it was a disabled school and they had invitations to do the mini marathon. You had to do three miles in under half an hour or something so I did it in my everyday day chair and I just got hooked. I just from day one as soon as I started I just fell in love with it and I did other things like basketball and hockey as well at the same time but I don’t know.

Kevin: What felt different about the racing obviously the racing just felt that bit different to you?

David: It was just that individual thing that if I didn’t do well it was my own fault. In basketball if someone, if a good couple of players wasn’t playing well that really bugged me a little bit because then you would feel like you would have to do a lot more work and you could loose and I am a really bad looser so wheelchair racing was the one for me because it was an individual thing and so training was individual and you had to train hard to win. You know that is why I chose that sport really.

Kevin: Incredible. And when you were I mean right from a kid who did you look up to, who inspired you I mean who were your idols?

David: I think the first person I really started to look up to was in Barcelona in 92, I was about 14, I was sitting there watching it and I looked up to Heinz Frei he was a wheelchair racer in Switzerland 10,000m he just absolutely blew everyone out the water. He was unbeaten on anything from 5,000 on the track up to marathons he was just unstoppable. And then like the marathon results you would look at the results and he would be like five or six minutes in front of everyone. And he would do world records on his own in the marathon. He still holds the world record now. So I looked up to him really when I was watching it and stuff like that and even when I was going to Switzerland in my early years I would look at him and admire him because he was just a fantastic athlete and the way he used to train and stuff like that it was just unbelievable. And he is still racing now and he is 52 I think this year. He is not doing so much but he is still up there with us and that is why I look up to that man.

Kevin: And would you say that was one of those moments that then said I want to do that, I want to, I enjoy doing this but you know what no I want to become I want to do this full time I want this to be my career.

David: Yeah and just looking at them athletes over and over again and thinking I just want to be like them and I think that’s what pushed me to my limits of getting my world records and stuff like that.

Kevin: I was going to say that I mean obviously those influences is it, was it just all about having them as a benchmark and having something that you could shoot for that you could see as a yard stick for yourself and that pushed you on each time with your own training?

David: Yeah well before Athens I um I had never expected, I thought I was going to be an average racer always come fourth or fifth or something like that.

Kevin: Really?

David: Well because of the World Championships in Lille I didn’t, I trained so hard and I won the first London Marathon that year in 2002 I went to Lille for the World Championships and I just didn’t feel like I couldn’t break that barrier. I thought that was it, this is it me, this is going to be the rest of my career. So I sat down with Jenny and we changed a lot of things and after that because I was so disappointed just kept coming fourth or fifth and.

Kevin: And Jenny Archer is your coach.

David: Yeah Jenny Archer is my coach and we sat down and changed my training and changed design of the chair as well and then I started to get a little bit better and better and so um and then leading into Athens I didn’t race all year. I done my qualifying times the year before I just wanted to go into that because I knew by my times that I was medal potential but in my mind I never thought I was going to win a medal. So going into Athens I was really nervous and I got on the start line for my first 200, I can remember looking down at my shirt, my GB shirt and I could see the GB badge just bouncing so hard from my heart rate was just unbelievable. And then once I had done the heat and then the semi final and when I looked at all the times in the semi final I thought I have got a good chance of winning a medal here. So I really had to just focus on that and once I had got my first medal I thought this is it I know I can get better and better.

Kevin: Yeah.

David: So from Athens really I got so much confidence after that that was the biggest thing for me my confidence wasn’t enough.

Kevin: That’s what I was going to ask you I mean obviously this to me sounds a complete mental issue I mean there you were going from one mental mindset saying yeah I think I can, I can mix it, I can mix it with the top tier but I am not going to be one of those superheroes you know.

David: Correct. Yeah, yeah and that is what I wanted to be, I wanted to be the greatest ever so people will look back and say well he won this, this, this and this and that is what I wanted to be and that is why I trained so hard and stuff like that. And Athens was the stepping stone of my career really.

Kevin: And do you really think when it comes back to it, it was achieving that first gold that then made you go right that’s it. Now that single success that you gained you have just built on that and built on that and built on that.

David: Yeah because in Athens my previous Olympics was Atlanta so I was only 17 and I was just thrilled to get there really.

Kevin: Yeah.

David: And I made one final and I come seventh so after that I had a bit of time out obviously I didn’t go to Sydney but then I come back into the sport and trained really hard and obviously Athens was my first Olympics back. To win a silver and a bronze was just yeah unbelievable because I didn’t think I would win anything in the 100 I thought my best event was the 400 and I didn’t even make the final. And then my best event in that Olympics was the 100m which was quite strange because mentally I was prepared to do well in the 400 and I didn’t even make the final and so I had to mentally get back see my coach forget about the 400 because it has been done and dusted now you have got to work on the next two races which was the 200 and, the next race which was the 100m. I felt a little bit weak and stuff so I went in the gym and pumped up a little bit and I got my silver medal so yeah after that I loved the sport so much that I just wanted to improve and improve and improve and improve.

Kevin: Yeah and it’s just become almost like, almost sounds addictive.

David: Yeah.

Kevin: Just sounds addictive this desire to win, this desire to raise the bar each time.

David: Well yeah I just wanted to raise the bar and then obviously with the sprinting after Athens I kept getting tennis elbow because I was doing repetitive work all the time because I was doing weights, sprints, weights, sprints so my elbows were getting knackered. So I said to Ucuff Letts let me change distance I will still do the sprints but I need to involve a little bit. So they let me have my little freedom and we changed the training kept the speed up for the sprints and in 2006 had a great winter, it was the driest winter ever so we could go out, it was freezing but we could still train outside.

Kevin: Absolutely yeah.

David: And 2006 I won obviously London Marathon and I went and did my first track meet in Switzerland and I broke the 200m World Record I knocked half a second off and no one had been under 25 seconds ever and I done 24.4 and it was just an amazing feeling really. I was the first.

Kevin: What is that like?

David: It feels like it is not you at first. It feels like you haven’t done it but then when you see people coming up to you and saying well done, no one has done this before and you sit there and think yeah this is great, this is where I want to be, this is what I have trained for, this is what I love and this is what I am doing it for because I want records, I want my name to be on records and stuff like that. and then about half an hour later I broke the 400m World Record so I had a great day that day and it was the first time that I had actually done a competitive 1500, well I had a done a couple of years before but not very fast I was in the mix but I wasn’t like under, 3 minutes was the best that anyone had done for a few years and that day I did a 2.58 and absolutely blew the floor out of everyone. Because in the 1500s back then everyone took it slowly and it was all tactical and then I turn up and just wiped the floor with them. I just sprint all the way and none of the racers was expecting it and so I wrote the new book on middle distance wheelchair racing really because now it is just a long sprint now everyone goes from the gun unless it is Olympic final.

Kevin: And there are still tactics.

David: Yeah there are still tactics people.

Kevin: Yeah and the interesting thing was and then there was an incredible twist with your story you got hit by glandular fever and so we have spoken about 2006 and leading in 2007 and yet you came back in 2008 to achieve your best ever results. Now this was something I found particularly fascinating because elite athletes that I have spoken to have openly said to me that their career was over when they got glandular fever they could never scale those same heights again. Now I am very interested to know how the heck you got yourself through that period because that could have been a hell of a low or that must have been a hell of a low in your career.

David: It was devastating really because I had such a fantastic year in 2007, I started in January and went to Australia and used it as a training and then after Australia I started peaking and went to LA done the LA Marathon and done my PB in LA Marathon, won London Marathon that year as well and then I done a whole series in Switzerland and I went off to America. In America I broke the 1500m World Record in the semi final, I looked at the start list, well I looked at the semi final list and realised there was no top guns in there just me and a young American. So I said to the young American look it was a beautiful day, it was in the evening so it was still hot, no wind, so I said to the young guy I am going to go. I just knew it was perfect to go, and I remember just going and this young lad just stayed with as long as he could and I could just remember the commentator, the American commentator just going absolutely crazy because I was doing these laps after lap they knew I was close to the World Record and then so I done the World Record on my own. Everyone just come up to me with amazement because no one had ever pushed that hard for that long for three and a quarter laps and done 2.55 and the previous World Record was 2.56 which was set up in Switzerland with a pace maker and everything. So it was a massive achievement for anyone to do that and then obviously that evening I broke the 5000 World Record as well. That was a bit closer it was between me and Kirk from Australia and actually I was in fifth place with 300m to go and I won it in Lane 4 so I come round everyone and won it. But then glandular fever after that it just.

Kevin: Before you go on to that when you were doing that 1500 and you were out by yourself what was going through your mind? What spurred you on?

David: Well I actually died in the middle of it because I felt so tired I just had nothing left and I just thought I am not going to do it, I am not going to do it and I just picked up with about 600 to go I just had to put everything in to it and I just wanted that World Record. That was the one that everyone wants and is the 1500 and is the World Record and has been there for years and I want it and now this is the only time I am going to get it.

Kevin: So it is a conscious mental thing. It sounds like you felt that you were gone and then all of a sudden you managed to.

David: Yeah to get something out of the bag to just to get me through for the last 600m and break it by a second so um I couldn’t do it in the final, I knew I didn’t want to risk it in the final because there was three or four guys that could do it with me and if they come round me at the end and piped me at the post and then got that World Record then I would have been very disappointed so I knew in the semi final that this is my only chance if I don’t do it now I am going to have to wait another year or so. So I just did it and even in the 5k I was so tired because I did the 400 and stuff like that, in the 5k we were lapping at 46s and 47s a second so it was really, really fast. I have not pushed at that speed before and to win that as well was a great achievement.

Kevin: Amazing sorry I interrupted you because you were leading up to how you dealt with glandular fever.

David: Yeah and then I come back from the US had about 10 days off like normal rest I would have if I have done a lot of competition week in week out. Had a complete rest and then started training again, felt a bit funny when I was training but just thought I was still tired so rested again and then come in a couple of days after and just didn’t feel right like 2m felt like a marathon. I was sweating and throat was sore and then one of my glands was a little bit swollen but I just thought tonsillitis or something like that so I went and had tests and then obviously UK Athletics Doctors diagnosed that is was glandular fever and then I was wiped out for six/seven months.

Kevin: Wow six or seven months on the biggest build up.

David: To the Beijing Olympics yeah. So I am so glad that I actually did all them races because I wouldn’t have got qualifying standards to go to Beijing.

Kevin: Incredible isn’t it how it all works out.

David: Yep so I would have had to panic and rush to do my qualifying times in like May and June the year leading up to Beijing so I am glad I actually done all them races because I wouldn’t even have gone to Beijing.

Kevin: Wow.

David: And I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now talking to you. So.

Kevin: Incredible the way it goes. So you were sitting there in the midst of glandular fever did it cross your mind that that’s it, that 2007 year where I had that wonderful patch that could have been my moment?

David: Yeah I think, I sat there for months thinking that is it now my career is over I am done and dusted and I have done everything and I just hope my World Records stay there for ever. I didn’t think I was going to go to Beijing because I had such a long time out, I lost so much weight as well with just worry and stress and then I started doing just bits of training just before Christmas but I could only do one day a week and you think for an elite athlete that’s not enough.

Kevin: Well I was going to say I mean today I have met you after your morning training session and you are having a bit of a break and then you are off to do another training session.

David: In the gym yeah.

Kevin: Yeah so.

David: I was only allowed to do one day a week and for a professional athlete that is just not good enough and you are sitting at home wanting to train and your body is not letting you do it. Yeah I just had to build it up so slowly which was really frustrating from January all the way through really to Beijing. I couldn’t train twice a day I could only do three or four days a week and then we worked out that there was between nine and ten weeks period where I could do hard training before I got something. So leading up to Beijing we done a ten week block and then obviously I died down when I went to Hong Kong and went to Beijing but it was a week too late and obviously I got a cold and my iron was so low, that was what destroyed, glandular fever destroyed my iron count. So I used to have to have boosts of iron every couple of months but in Beijing we didn’t know that. I said to the doctor this is not just a normal cold I said I have done two races I feel like I have raced every day for the last six weeks I feel physically drained and tired. We went to the hospital inside the Olympic village we had a blood test and he said you are right your iron count is in single figures he said I don’t even know how you got out of bed let alone do two races so the doctor gave me a jab of iron and obviously it started to boost me up a little bit but not enough because it takes three months for your iron count to get back to normal anyway so I had to get through the rest of the races and win.

Kevin: And you came away with two gold’s a silver and a bronze from my memory.

David: Yeah and I was just happy to win one gold and to win two because the build up the year before was just not good enough for my standards. I wanted to be the best, I wanted to beat 2007. I wanted that to carry on. I would have had a good rest, I would have been in good spirits because I had broken so many World Records, I was at the top of my game and then I would have gone in to Beijing with just the highest confidence because my confidence was gone. So I had to just go through the motions really.

Kevin: I mean you say go through the motions. You can’t go through the motions and come away with two gold’s, a silver and a bronze so there is still you weren’t physically prepared at all but something. You have got to have something ticking around.

David: Winning. I want to win that is what makes me want to do it, I want to win and I had never won a gold medal in an Olympics or a Paralympics sorry and that was my aim in my lifetime was if I do so many Olympics as long as I come away with one gold medal from any Olympics that’s what I wanted to do.

Kevin: So does it just come down to at the end of the day once you are on that track you just manage to blank out the pain everything the history? Do you just focus on the here and now I mean what do you do?

David: Yeah. For Beijing I had a good ten weeks of training I was in good shape so I knew my times and stuff like that, that I was pushing well and it is just once you get a cold or something like that any athlete will sit there and start worrying and stuff like that and then when your iron count is low. So really I just really had to think about what I had been doing building up to it.

Kevin: Positives, just focus on the positives.

David: Focus on the positives so really as well I had to cut down my warm up time as well because I was getting tired because if I am doing a 5000m I don’t want to be tired on warm up and then I couldn’t finish the race so I had to cut my warm up down. So I had to do a lot of things, changes before each race in Beijing which was tough. Mentally afterwards I was drained.

Kevin: I bet.

David: With pressure and with racing and what I did as well. I was pleased with what I did and to come away with what I did I come away with four medals so I couldn’t ask for more.

Kevin: An amazing achievement, amazing achievement. Now you are now widely considered right at the top. When you were obviously, you told me about who your influences were when you were aspiring to be the best but now you actually are at the top what actually motivates you to keep going now?

David: I have got goals like some races I haven’t won. So like New York Marathon I have never won I want to win. London Marathon I want to win it every year. I just have these goals that I want and now my World Records have gone this year, my 5000 and 1500 I want them back. So I have always got goals.

Kevin: So you just reset the goals every time.

David: Yeah I just reset the goals. I know this year I have been coming second a lot but with the racer Marcel Hook from Switzerland who has broke the World Record I am the only one who is challenging him. This year I have actually, first time I have PBd in three years, in three events so I know I am not getting slower he is just a little bit quicker than me but it is a fraction of a second. He is slightly ahead of me but I know I have got other things I can improve on. I think if I sat there and thought there is nothing I can improve on then I would sit there and worry but I have got things that I can improve on.

Kevin: I was going to ask you how far do you think you can take yourself, I mean how much more David Weir is there.

David: I am not sure really um with London it is going to be a London 2012 is going to be a big one for me so I think everything will go in to London and then I will be 33 then so I will have been around for a long time so may be, may be I cant say until I have done London and then I will make my decision after but I think London will be a good one to bail out on but yeah I have said that like I have said right London is definitely my last Olympics but when you get nearer to it you think oh I don’t know yet. But.

Kevin: I was going to say from what you are saying yeah I suppose it depends if you hit those goals that you want to in London and then equally if you cant find any other goals to reach for.

David: Yeah that is the thing and that is all when I was trying to get these World Records or win races I had goals every year what races I want to win or what records I wanted to have. I know they are getting a little bit shorter but there are still goals that I wanted to win.

Kevin: And I suppose while there is a goal still there then there is equally the motivation and the desire to go out and train and push the body and do everything else. Now talking with you now and equally doing the research prior to the interview everything you say about yourself you just consider yourself a regular guy and we were speaking about that even before we started the interview today and I was trying to actually convince you not very successfully that you actually weren’t a regular guy that you’ve achieved a hell of a lot more than a regular guy but you still think of yourself as just David Weir regular guy from Wallington, Sutton.

David: Yeah, yeah I just think I’m just a normal guy, I still live on the same council estate, I know I probably all the kids on the estate know who I am. I get stopped a lot on there. I have never, I have always been, it is like years ago when I used to come back from races and my mum would say to me how did you do and I would say alright even though I had won and stuff like that. I was like ten or eleven and she would say well how did you do then come on tell me and I would say yeah I have done alright and I would leave it at that. and I would give her my medal and then I would go out and play and stuff so I have always been modest and I have never hyped myself never, I just think I am David Weir from Sutton and it is only until you do all these interviews and then you get people saying oh can I have your autograph and stuff like that then you start to realise I have achieved something here and you get kids coming up to you and they look up to you and stuff like that. That is when.

Kevin: Well I was going to say this must be the real positive bit for you because I know that you are putting back. I know that you consider yourself already an old man of the sport um but you are already putting a lot back into encouraging children with disabilities in to sport aren’t you and I know that is something that you feel very passionate about.

David: Yeah I do a few years ago I never thought I would see myself doing it I just thought that, I just wanted to do my own thing and then just bail out like that but then I just sat there and thought before Beijing there was me, Shelly, Mickey in racing chairs and I thought that is not good enough, that is not good enough with a country the size of Britain and the amount of disabled people in this country there must be some juniors out there who want to do wheelchair racing. And I just want to go round the country and get kids into wheelchair racing because it is a fantastic sport. I know it is difficult, it is hard, if you get the right people and the mentality of people it is fun as well and I just want to get kids or anyone who is a young adult or someone like that just to come down and train with us and see what it is about really because it is a fantastic sport.

David: What do you think would be a stronger legacy for you a legacy that would give you much pride to leave? Do you think the knowledge of your World Records to leave as a legacy or do you think actually encouraging a lot more people into wheelchair athletics? What do you think?

David: Encouraging more people I think.

Kevin: Yeah. Do you think that is the real self fulfilment?

David: Yeah I think after when I have retired definitely I want to set up something that kids can come and train and I can give them all my knowledge with me and Jenny and other people. I really want wheelchair racing to be the best sport in Great Britain really.

Kevin: And I think that nicely brings us on to 2012 because I think the wonderful thing is we are already seeing the media coverage improve and increase right from now and I believe you are actually turning up on Channel Four I believe at the weekend aren’t you with a programme there. But it is lovely to see 2012 giving that focus to the media and giving a purpose to the media to actually promote the Paralympics an awful lot more. That must be great for you.

David: Yeah I think it was great that they put up the rights for the Paralympics and every TV company that went in to it had to bid and put what they were going to do like with documentaries and Channel Four got it which was great really because even though the BBC have done fantastically well over the years covering our sport but it always felt like it was the Olympics and then Paralympics not because of the BBC but because the Olympics always come first. Now with Channel Four because they have got the full rights of the Paralympics everything is going to be thrown at the Paralympics. So adverts, so it won’t be a rush two weeks after the Olympics this will, this is starting now.

Kevin: Yes this is show in itself it is not a side show. And I am going to put you on the spot now just to finish off with the final question – what are you going to go for Olympics 2012 what is going to make David Weir a very happy man and someone who would feel possibly comfortable enough about retiring afterwards?

David: Just one gold medal. Yeah my home Olympics I would just like one gold medal. It is going to be tough because there is a bunch of racers out there that are really, really looking strong so if I get one gold medal then it will be more of an achievement than Beijing because the standard is raising very high at the moment so.

Kevin: And the final, final thing for the people out there who are trying to either push on in their career, open a business, excel within their own sport what would you bit of advice to them be that has maybe seen you through throughout your career and enabled you to achieve what you have?

David: I think you just need to work hard really and be motivated, be dedicated. It might be slow at the beginning but if you keep working at something that you are good at it is going to come true in the end I think. Because it hasn’t taken me two years to get like this it has taken me 20 years so it might have taken a long time but I have worked hard at it and I think if you work hard at anything that you can do you can achieve anything.

Kevin: David I am going to finish now I really appreciate the time you have spent with Maximise Potential and you know on behalf of the people that listen to the show you know we are really pleased to have you on board and having a lovely exclusive interview with you today.

David: Thank you very much cheers.

Kevin: Thank you and best of luck with your training.

David: Thank you.

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Kevin: Since we recorded that interview we are very pleased to share with you that David achieved one of the major milestones that he spoke of in this interview and that was winning the New York Marathon so congratulations David from everybody at Maximise Potential.

I would like to say a big thank you to Definitive Sports who represent David and especially Hannah who is David’s Agent for the numerous phone calls, emails, text messages and everything else that were required just to make this interview possible so Hannah thank you very much. If you would like to learn more about David, the London Paralympics and also the Paralympics show on Channel Four that we spoke of in the interview where David features in episode 10 just go to the webpage for episode 19 and you will find plenty of links that you can click through to.

On the next episode of Maximise Potential we are going to have a straight talking business one with the Recruitment Program Manager for JP Morgan Investment Bank where we will be discussing the very best methods to secure and retain the very best personnel talent for your business. So thanks again as always to the Jenrick Recruitment Group for sponsoring the podcast and here is a track to finish things off from Xerxes and it is called ‘Blessed’.

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We hope you enjoyed reading this transcript on Sports star, David Weir. You can listen to more motivating interviews on theMaximise Potential Podcast with inspiring people – all who have demonstrated maximising their potential to be successful in life.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!