Rio 2016: Ian Marsden's journey from powerlifter to Paralympic hopeful on water

By Andrew AloiaBBC Sport
Ian Marsden competing as a powerlifter and para-canoeist
Ian Marsden began his sporting career as a powerlifter, but could represent Great Britain as a para-canoeist in Rio

Ian Marsden has lifted, cycled, fired and paddled for Great Britain during a sporting career that has seen him requiring reconstructive spinal surgery which left him needing to use a wheelchair.

His journey towards the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games as a para-canoeist has been one filled with life-changing obstacles and defined by a steely resolve.

He began as a record-breaking junior world champion powerlifter. Then, after suffering a serious spinal injury, he embarked on an illustrious handcycling career.

Marsden raced on the European circuit while based in the Czech Republic, before a neck problem again saw him admitted into the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in 2009 for what he thought was a prolapsed disc.

Ian Marsden undergoes tests
Ian Marsden underwent a number of tests identify his neck problem in 2009

Instead it was revealed that he suffers with a rare motor-neurone condition which affects his arms, legs and brain.

"Through powerlifting I damaged my back many years ago, and after that I managed to damage my neck and had a couple of plates and (carbon) cage put in," the 44-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent told BBC East Midlands Today.

In a matter-of-fact manner, Marsden says his sporting journey "has not been an easy one".

When handcycling was no longer an option, he took up air rifle shooting and set his sights on London 2012, but while more representative honours came his way, he missed out on the Paralympics.

Eventually, he turned to the water where he was able to combine aspects of his his first two sporting loves - powerlifting and handcycling - together in one explosive sport.

"I didn't want to give up on sport," he said. "The cycling and powerlifting work quite well with the para-canoe - the gym work, the power and strength and then you have the endurance and speed work on the bike."

Ian Marsden in action as a handcyclist
Ian Marsden is a former British time-trial champion and won bronze in the event at the 2007 World Championships

The two-time para-canoe European champion and two-time world silver medallist now wants to realise his Paralympic ambition in Brazil when the British line-up is decided at the trials in Nottingham in June.

"It would be the highlight of my sporting career," Marsden said.

"As a kid I watched TV and watched the Olympics. I've seen how the Paralympics has built up over the years, from not really knowing what it was about to the status it has now, with athletes being household names.

"It would be an honour to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics.

"I'll be aiming for gold in Rio. There is no other place you want after all the hard work."

At a warm weather training camp in Brazil, Marsden got a picture-perfect view of what he can look forward to if he does make the trip to Rio later this year.

Taking a look at the city's regatta venue on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the backdrop itself motivated him further.

"It's a fantastic place," he said. "With Christ the Redeemer looking down on the regatta course, it has to be the best sporting location of any sport in the world."

Interview by BBC East Midlands Today's Mark Shardlow.

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