It was 10pm, it was dark and it looked like it was going to rain. Standing in the concrete shadow of Paddington station, we were making futile attempts to flag down taxis with one hand, while holding firmly on to our racing wheelchairs, spare tyres, tools and sport bags in the other. Several taxis slowed to give long, quizzical looks at our cargo, before driving on. Most didn’t even give us a look, and simply sped past without faltering.
It was the end of a long evening. With the very generous support of the wonderful Weir Archer Academy, we had regularly been training on an all-weather track in Norbiton, south of London. But the journeys (it was between a 5 and 6-hour round trip) had taken their toll and, as the training was ramping up, we had decided the only thing we could do was bring the chairs home, and train in our local park. So here we were - tired, hungry and impatient for home - watching a steady stream of taxis flood past us. It’s fair to say, morale was not at it’s highest.
Eventually, as things became increasingly bleak, we saw an indicator flash and a taxi pull in. The driver kindly allowed us to make several vain attempts to load both chairs, before we conceded defeat and just squeezed one in.
A good start, but it still left me standing rather forlornly by the side of the road. To cut a long story short, eventually I was also heading in a taxi, accompanied by the racing chair, back to Patrick’s flat in Bethnal Green. The driver in my cab helpfully reminded me, on several occasions, the significant sum of money I would need to pay if the chair ripped any of his seat covers. I assured him I understood, and stared grimly at where one of the wheel covers was digging in to the soft foam.
When I arrived at Patrick’s flat, I feared the worst: Patrick was standing outside the cab, handing over his details to the driver - phone number and email address. I swore silently in my head: to cap off an extremely frustrating evening, Patrick was surely getting fined by the driver for ripping his seat. Another cost, another setback.
But unusual situations are often where you find people at their most unusually kind. What I was about to find out remains one of the most motivating, and most memorable, moments from our entire training journey. Far from demanding money from Patrick, the driver was insisting Patrick give him his details in order that he could give us money, and make a donation. He had been fascinated by our story, touched by the effort we were making and explained that, as it was Ramadan, it was particularly special for him to be able to help us. We were almost speechless: after a long night of flat tyres, delayed trains and frustration his heartfelt and generous pledge of £100 was our first donation pledge, and one that we have reminded ourselves of through the weeks of training that have followed.
This small incident encapsulates the ups and downs of planning and preparing for a challenge like this. There are often long stretches of tedium, or frustration, or pain. But there are also moments of incredible reward, satisfaction and achievement. Throughout these ups and downs, Patrick and I have simply referred to these as ‘the journey’, and there will be many more to come.
Published by: athlete_1 in Training