In 2011, Dave Henson was leading an Army patrol in Afghanistan when he stepped on a bomb, which resulted in having both his legs amputated at the knee. The 31 year old came through intensive rehabilitation and now five years on will represent ParalympicsGB in the T42 200m at the Paralympic Games in Rio.
In his first instalment of a blog series going into Rio, Henson gives his account of his lead up to being selected.
It feels incredible to be selected for my first ever Paralympics in Rio. I don’t think it’s set in yet because I haven’t started jumping through the ceiling but I think give it a couple of days when the realisation that I’m going to Rio settles in, I’ll be over the moon. I can’t quite believe it at the moment because the way I feel is that I’m just some fat bloke from Southampton, but I’ve managed to put the work in, graft and now I’ve been selected by my country in Rio so it’s a bit unbelievable.
I want it to be a message to people that you can achieve your dreams and that it is possible. I took part in my very first track competition in June 2013. I was a little bit overweight and I was a heavy smoker at the time. I actually didn’t give up smoking until September 2014. So in two years I have gone through the giving up smoking process, focusing on my training and applying myself to athletics. Once I got myself going I set myself the target of going to Rio two years ago. I looked at everything I needed to do and what support I would need along the way. I mapped it out step by step in order to achieve my goal and I have achieved it through hard work.
Being involved in the Invictus Games played an important part on that journey and was the platform I used to get into competitive sports properly for the first time. It has given me the experience of everything that is associated with competing in a multi-sport environment. It gave me a taste of what being a professional athlete could mean and helped me work towards targets, so it has definitely been a great help in preparation for Rio. Even though this will be my first Paralympic Games that experience of a big multi-sport competition will hopefully prepare me to handle the atmosphere and magnitude of a Paralympic Games.
I’m lucky to have someone like Richard Whitehead in my classification to get advice from. As someone who is a fairly new above knee amputee, you have to learn what you can do with your body – just basic things like what exercises you can do in the gym to get the right strength and power to run in the way that we do. Richard is obviously a very experienced athlete over the last ten years and has done just about every distance possible all the way down from the marathon. I think the biggest piece of advice I have taken from him since being involved within the sport is the understanding of what you can do. So his understanding of what kind of skills and techniques you need to develop to put your body in the best position to go into a competition has been invaluable.
Last month I competed at the Anniversary Games in Rio as part of my preparation for Rio in front of an incredible crowd at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. That race on Saturday of the Müller Anniversary Games was the best race I’ve ever been a part of and it made it even more special to be competing at the Olympic Stadium. I ran at the Anniversary Games last year but I was a bit of a nervous wreck, I was very new to competition and it was the first time I’ve gone through the call room process. This year I knew what to expect and had a bit more competition experience and I took the time to enjoy it.
It was an incredibly strong field on the day and it’s always massively beneficial to be involved in a race against your main competitors to gauge how well you are performing. Richard is on absolutely incredible form this season and this South African teenager (Ntando Mahlangu) seems to have come along from nowhere and is flying. It is so good to see that level of competition because it is so good for our sport and our particular classification. It’s going to make that 200m race in Rio so exciting because we have got some really quick individuals in that race, and I would certainly put myself in to that mix. My time on Saturday at the Müller Anniversary Games was during the middle of a training period so I think I can go a little bit quicker.
Competing at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and experiencing the incredible buzz has made me even more excited for the next two years. With Rio around the corner, that’s the immediate focus, but next year’s the World ParaAthletics Championships in London is going to be incredible.. It would mean the world to me to compete at a major championships in front of a home crowd, but you never know what might happen. If something goes wrong and I’m not able to compete I can still turn round and say I have run at the Olympic Stadium, I ran well, I did myself proud and I enjoyed every single moment.
The atmosphere in that stadium is just electric; it is an incredible place to run and has so many memories from London 2012. Now we are seeing athletics brought back for another major athletics competition both for IPC and IAAF athletics where there are going to be some top performances and a buzzing atmosphere.
I’m now busy fine tuning my preparation ahead of travelling to the holding camp in Belo Horizonte in a few weeks’ time. The realisation of what I’ve achieved is slowly kicking in and I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the Olympic Games and ready for ParalympicsGB to do Britain proud in September.
Featured Image Courtesy of Dave’s website – http://davehenson.co.uk/about/