Nathan Stephens

Nathan Stephens

The Welsh Paralympian talks about his dream of striking gold in London.

Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in athletics?

Nathan Stephens: I first got involved in athletics when I was 14-years-old. I went along to the Newport games and looked at a variety of different sports. Anthony Hughes, my coach and performance director for FDSW, was there. He saw me doing some bench presses and playing table tennis and asked me to come along to try out. I came along for one Wednesday session and it started from there. I loved the sport and I didn't quit.

RYG: What does it take to become a world class athlete?

NS: You need to be focused on what you want to achieve. You also need dedication. Being a student there are a lot of distractions. You need to wake up in the morning and realise you've got to go training so you can't go out in the night. You've got to love what you do and know where you're going. That's the main reason I do it.

RYG: What kind of sacrifices have you had to make to get you this far?

Profile

Name:
Nathan Stephens

Born:
11 April 1988

Sports:
Javelin, Discus, Shot Put and Sledge Hockey

Achievements:
2008

  • 8th: Shot Put - Beijing Paralympics
  • 4th: Javelin - Beijing Paralympics
  • 11th: Discus - Beijing Paralympics

2006

  • Member of the GB sledge hockey team that went to the Turin Winter Paralymics

2005

  • Gold: Shot Put - World Junior Championships (World Record)
  • Gold: Javelin - World Junior Championships (World Record)
  • Gold: Discus - World Junior Championships (World Record)

2004

  • Gold: Shot Put - British Senior Championships (British Record)
  • Gold: Javelin - British Senior Championships (British Record)
  • Gold: Discus - British Senior Championships (British Record)

2003

  • Gold: Shot Put - British Senior Open Championships
  • Gold: Javelin - British Senior Open Championships
  • Silver: Discus - British Senior Open Championships
  • Gold: Shot Put - Junior British Championships
  • Gold: Javelin - Junior British Chamionships
  • Gold: Discus - Junior British Championships

NS: From a young age I've trained in athletics. I didn't have much time to spend with my friends because I was either away competing or training. It helped to have friends that knew I wasn't going to be there and respected that. When you get older, everyone starts going out and you have to say 'I can't, I've got to go training and I've got to compete.'

If you're focused on what you want then it doesn't really bother you. As long as you go out there and achieve what you want to achieve. I could go out drinking all the time but then I wouldn't be travelling the world every week to compete.

RYG: What have you learnt from competing?

NS: A couple of times I've been in training and wanted to quit. Especially before major events, it's happened to me twice. Just before the event I haven't been able to achieve the standards that I needed to achieve.

The main thing I've learnt is to never give up. I had to put on a metre and a half with my shot put. I threw the distance once, realised I could do it, and carried on throwing further and further. My mental toughness has definitely improved. I can cope with a lot more now.

RYG: How do you handle the pressure before competing in a big event?

NS: I sit down and listen to my music. I try not to let my opponents get to me. Some of them are a lot bigger than me, especially in shot put. Some are about twice the size of me. You look at them and you think 'Right, I've got to go and throw further than them.' You can't worry about other people. You've got to go out and compete for yourself. I like to give competitors a few cheeky smiles as well, just to see how they react to it.

RYG: How do you psych yourself up before a big competition?

NS: It depends on my mood and the competition. Sometimes I just sit down and chill. Sometimes I listen to rock music to get me in the mood. I like The Chilli Peppers, Stereophonics, My Chemical Romance, The Foo Fighters, Funeral For a Friend, Slayer and Metallica.

RYG: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

NS: The highlight's definitely been coming fifth in the World Championships. I went out there just as a development athlete. I was hoping to finish in the top eight. In a field of 14 senior athletes, I finished fifth, which is one of the biggest improvements I've ever made. I put a metre on my personal best which was amazing.

RYG: And the lowlights?

NS: If I don't train well it gets me down. If I don't hit standards in training it's disappointing. I've never hit a personal best in training. They've all come in competitions. I think it's because of that extra little bit of adrenaline. From that I've learnt to just keep trying and that it's better to have your bad days in training. I haven't had any really low times in competitions.

RYG: There's a lot of talk in the press regarding childhood obesity - do you think it's important for people to participate in sport regardless of their ability?

NS: Not even sport. I think it's just important to lead an active lifestyle. Whether you're playing football or walking places instead of taking the car or the bus. It's also important that people eat healthily. People always say that it's important to participate in sport, and of course that's helpful, but as long as you're active, that's the main thing.

RYG: How do you balance your sporting commitments with your university studies?

NS: It's actually been quite easy because I'm doing sports coaching in UWIC. I'm learning more about nutrition and how the body works, which is helping my training. It's all helping with my sport really.

I'm based in Cardiff, which is where I train, so I'm able to train a lot more, without travelling as far. The university social life is the biggest distraction to try and overcome, especially freshers week when everybody goes out. It's actually a lot better now that I'm in university than it has been.

RYG: What does a normal week's training involve?

NS: Mondays and Wednesdays are my technical sessions. I come along in the evening, do a technical session and do a speed session. Tuesdays are speed or swimming sessions. Wednesdays I do a technical session. Thursdays I do heavyweights. On Friday I have a rest day. Then I do weights again on the weekend.

RYG: Which athletes inspire you?

NS: Definitely Lance Armstrong for what he's overcome. He's really inspiring. Tanni Grey-Thompson for the amount of work she's put into disabled sport. It's something everybody should strive for. I'm inspired by any athlete that goes out there for the love of the sport.

The athletes I train with also inspire me. To see how far they've come since taking up the sport really drives me on and makes me want to improve. There's a friendly rivalry there so we work off each other.

RYG: What are your goals and ambitions for the future?

NS: First of all I need to qualify for Beijing next year. Hopefully I can bring back a medal from Beijing in either the shot put or javelin. If I qualify for the discus then that would be brilliant.

After that, I'm definitely focused on London. It's the home Olympics. I've got to bring back three golds. If I could bring back three golds, I'd retire there and then. I can hopefully qualify in sledge hockey for Vancouver in 2010, that'd be a brilliant experience. I've got a lot of things to look forward to.


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