RSS feed
Queens Baton Relay
3 December 2014 Last updated at 15:19

Marathon man targets 1500m at Glasgow

Josh Cassidy, in wheelchair, holds the Queen's Baton.

Canadian wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy completed the 2012 Boston Marathon in a staggering time of one hour, 18 minutes and 25 seconds, shaving two seconds off a world record that had stood for eight years.

But he was devastated after failing to win a medal at the London 2012 Paralympics and in 2013 made the headlines for the wrong reasons at the London Marathon, when he was involved in a collision with women's favourite Tiki Gelana.

I caught up with Josh as the Queen's Baton toured Toronto, curious about a statement on his website: "Paralympic or Olympic? Call it what you want. I'm an athlete."

I was interested to know why he felt it so important to say this.

"In the UK things are good now. Unfortunately everywhere else, Canada included, coverage isn't the same. People don't know what's going on with Paralympic sports. On one hand you get the same respect as an Olympian, but on the other, no one can really identify or associate with it, as they don't see it."

Start Quote

I am sure it will be an amazing games. The field will include David Weir and Kurt Fearnley, so it's lining up to be a very competitive race.”

End Quote Josh Cassidy

Glasgow 2014 will be the first major championships at which Josh focuses on the 1500m since Delhi 2010. There he overcame illness to win bronze, his first major games medal. He explained how it was possible to train effectively for both distances.

"It is a bit different to running. It's a power and endurance sport, more comparable to speed skating or rowing. At last year's London marathon there was an eight-man sprint finish... hitting the same kind of maximum speeds as in a 1500m."

Biggest weakness

As his physique changes through training Josh has had to make some alterations to his equipment.

"I'm putting on mass on my legs, torso, chest and shoulders. This throws off the geometry of pushing the rings. Usually it's millimetres, but I've had to adjust the chair by an inch and a half."

He sees his top-end speed as his biggest weakness, and is working through some theories about body positioning and making the best use of his strengths.

Start Quote

When I started racing, it was a dream. The dream became a goal. The goal became a reality”

End Quote Josh Cassidy

"That is what I have always loved about sport, the challenges and that drive to get better, to be the best."

One challenge has been coming back after the London Marathon crash. Josh admits that he's had to pick himself up after a tough year.

"The big part for me was loving training again, and doing it for the love of the sport. There is still more I want to do, especially major games medals."

Wheelchair athlete racing Josh Cassidy in action at the 2012 Paralympic Games

Which brings us back to Glasgow: "I am sure it will be amazing. The field will include six-time Paralympic champion David Weir and Australian rival Kurt Fearnley, so it's lining up to be a very competitive race.

"It is a milestone event. On such a world stage the crowds make it an amazing experience. I'm excited, as I've never been to Scotland."

As the Games approach, Josh looks back on the self-belief he's had from childhood. Growing up, he always imagined he would be a professional athlete competing for Canada.

"From an early age, I was always very active in sports. I always wanted to be the best. I was into defying odds, overcoming obstacles and adapting.

"When I started racing, it was a dream. The dream became a goal. The goal became a reality."

Belize's first Commonwealth triathlete

In 2013, 33-year-old Kent Gabourel was crowned winner of the Lionman, the biggest triathlon in Belize, and qualified for a place at Glasgow 2014.

Start Quote

Drugs and gangs are the main things that I worry about, they deeply affect our community. I hate to see young guys throwing away their lives in such a manner.”

End Quote Kent Gabourel

His home, Ambergris Caye, is a small island 90 minutes by boat from Belize City.

The tiny cobbled streets of the town are populated with golf carts and holidaymakers. However, the idyllic, laid back facade hides the reality of a community that is struggling with gangs and drugs.

Last year, Belize was named the sixth most violent country in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

I soon find out that fighting this situation is exactly what motivates Kent.

He picked up the triathlon after finishing his career as a footballer recently, and is realistic about his hopes for the games.

"My best hope is to do a good race, finish well and represent my country. When I get back, I want to nurse that, to carry on racing triathlon, into our neighbours Guatemala and Mexico, and drag some of my kids along with me."

'Good role model'

He isn't talking about his own children, but the many teenagers who he voluntarily coaches and mentors through sport.

"They are the future for me. They are my students, as well as my training partners and motivators. I work with kids that have dropped out of school and are getting into that drug life, that night life, gangster stuff - I guide them on another path," Kent adds.

He has the advantage of having a father who was a national soccer legend, and credits him with being a good role model and introducing him into sport. After being the island's football captain for 10 years, Kent also has the respect of the community to carry on with his social work in sport.

"Drugs and gangs are the main things that I worry about, they deeply affect our community. I hate to see young guys throwing away their lives in such a manner. So I try and get them to come over onto the sports side," he explained.

Kent Gabourel and Jordan Santos Under the guidance of Kent, Jordan Santos won the Junior Belize triathlon championship.

When it comes to his triathlon training, Ambergris Caye is far from ideal. All of the roads outside the town are dirt and sand. He trains on a heavy beach cruiser bicycle that has one fixed gear, fat tyres and no brakes.

Toughest race

"The only tarmac that I have to train on is the airstrip, it is 1500m - sometimes I get access to it, but that is in the small hours of the morning, when it is dark. After that I have to jump on my beach cruiser bike, to do more mileage as there are planes landing during the day," he told me.

"I have been focusing on getting my technique better at swimming. For me, that is the main part where I lose time. We swim in the sea and there are a lot of boats.

"Cycling here is terrible and the running is also not smooth, you have to watch out for your ankles.

"I don't have it like the professional guys, the training is very rough, but this is the resources that I have, so I learn to adjust myself and use it to the best of my ability.

"Training in those bikes, I have to push more as it's so heavy and with one big gear. So when I convert to a road bike, it feels very easy for me. I don't really have the cadence, but I do have the power."

The cold water and the tarmac roads of a triathlon in Scotland will be the toughest race of Kent's life.

He may be a novice when it comes to international triathlon, but coming to Glasgow 2014 will be a win in itself.

A win, not just for Kent, but for the legacy that he is building at home in Belize too.

'Commonwealth Games is the pinnacle of my career'

Joe Chapman Joe Chapman, with the Queen's Baton

At the age of 15, Joe Chapman from British Virgin Islands was the youngest ever squash player to compete at the Commonwealth Games..

Now 23, he has turned professional and is training hard for his third Games in Glasgow this summer.

"For me, the Commonwealth Games is the pinnacle of my career and more important than any of my pro tournaments," said Joe.

"Because the Commonwealths are recognised throughout sports and across generations by people who don't know squash, maybe wouldn't understand a British Open title, or a World Championship title. But they would understand a medal at the Commonwealth Games.

"And also, there are fewer opportunities to perform at your best. You have one shot."

Start Quote

Once you get to the point where you are not being challenged in your home country, you need to start seeking out better players.”

End Quote Joe Chapman on competing at the Commonwealth Games

Squash is a 'core sport' that takes place at every Games. For Joe and other players, the Commonwealth title is one of the most coveted in the sport.

Joe added: "Coming from a small territory has been to my advantage as I have been able to go and compete internationally from a younger age.

"It is important to not think about how big the other countries are, or how big the talent pools they have to choose from - rather, to focus on yourself.

"At the end of the day, players from the big countries are individuals as well, and so it just takes a bit of confidence to say 'I am going to get to that level, and I don't care how hard it is'.

"I chose squash, because it was the sport (growing up) that I thought was the most challenging, had all the components to it: It has technique, it has fitness and it is a very thoughtful sport.

"Tortola (on the British Virgin Islands) is a very small island. So team sports aren't as relevant, because there isn't so many people, so you really have to pick an individual sport."

Joe is currently ranked 108th in the world and been competing on the professional tour since graduating from a US college last year.

"You need to be where the best players in the world are," he added. "So once you get to the point where you are not being challenged in your home country, whatever age that is, you need to start seeking out better players.

"Because of our proximity to the US and because of the importance that US colleges put on sport, that is a great avenue for young athletes from the British Virgin Islands.

"England right now is dominant within the Commonwealth, they took gold, silver and bronze in the men's at the last Commonwealth, and all three of them are top ten in the world."

However, Joe is not worried about the English favourites. He is once again looking forward to representing his island nation, with hopes of upsetting the odds in Glasgow.

Meet Zharnel Hughes' dad

Howell Hughes

In the world of athletics, all eyes are on 18-year-old Zharnel Hughes.

A few weeks ago, he ran 10.12 seconds in the 100m of the prestigious Jamaican Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Athletics Championships - beating a record held by sprinting superstar Yohan Blake.

Start Quote

"He always had that pace. From the age of 12, I figured he would make the top.”

End Quote Howell Hughes

As the Queen's baton travelled through his homeland of Anguilla, I hailed a cab driven by his father Howell. Now the most famous taxi driver on the small island, he laughs that he is no longer known as Howell and only as Zharnel's dad.

We stop for a coffee and I look up Zharnel's record breaking race from 28th March so we can watch it together. Within a week of being posted online, this clip has had over 33,000 views.

As Zharnel strides to victory, his father sits back with a deep, long laugh.

"It's not surprising to me - from an early age he was fast. We would often go to the beach and have a race, sometimes I beat him, sometimes he beat me.

"He always had that pace. From the age of 12, I figured he would make the top."

Like Usain Bolt, Zharnel is not the fastest out of the blocks, but at the 50m mark he strides out and finds another gear while the field fade around him.

Zharnel Hughes (L) beat Yohan Blake's 100m record when he won the Schools Championships last weekend. Zharnel Hughes (l) beat Yohan Blake's 100m record at the Schools Championships

It was a staggering run for a schoolboy.

Anguilla measures sixteen miles by three miles and there is only one grass running track on the island which Zharnel first trained on. The teenager now trains in Jamaica at the High Performance Centre, next to Bolt and Blake.

His dad explained: "From an early age, he was the fastest of his friends, the fastest on the island. He is a natural talent. Growing up there wasn't a chance for him to leave Anguilla, so now he is getting established he is getting to travel."

Howell is the most laid back man I have met in the Caribbean, which is really saying something.

He is proud of his son's style: "He is very relaxed. After the race he doesn't brag or anything. If you notice after some races he puts his fingers across his lips, which I think is his way of saying don't talk too much and just keep calm.

"I think a lot of people will be inspired by my Zharnel."

Howells has one final bit of fatherly advice for his talented son. "One step at a time, keep relaxed, and keep the party flame going."

Route map

Special report

Baton Relay Tweets

Follow us

  • buildingGlasgow 2014

    All the latest BBC Glasgow 2014 news, analysis and information as the countdown continues

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.