EXCLUSIVE: Craig Green sets out on the fast track to the Rio 2016 Paralympics
- Credit: Archant
FORMER Huntingdon Town footballer Craig Green is on a mission to break into the British cycling team for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
The 32-year-old put his football on hold earlier in the season while he trained for the London Marathon – and has now quit the game for good to pursue his dream of a Paralympic gold. Now he is putting in the miles on the roads of Huntingdonshire in an effort to catch up with his contemporaries.
“I went to the Paralympics last year with my girlfriend and my little girl and it was a comment there that started it,” said Green when we met at a blustery Jubilee Park for a chat on Saturday morning. “I just said to Stacey, my girlfriend, ‘this is going to be me in Rio’ – and that was it, that inspired me.
“I had previously ridden mountain bikes, BMXs and did some freestyle stuff, but I had never really ridden a road bike.
“But I thought I would try some triathlons and booked some of the local ones, and then I was on Twitter and Facebook all the time trying to gee up support for the Marathon, and I had a Tweet from a gentleman called Paul West, who is the developments officer for British Cycling up in Manchester.
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“He invited me to an event called Sportsfest which promotes the Paralympic legacy and gives disable people a chance to try out sports and see what they can and can’t do.
“So, six days after the marathon, I turned up there feeling a bit leggy and sore and I spoke to Paul, he put me on a bike, and we did some power tests and fitness tests and before I had even got home he had sent an email saying ‘we are looking for someone like yourself’.
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“I have now joined British Cycling, got myself a bike, a race licence and sponsors, and I have joined a cycling club in Peterborough – so I am doing everything I can.
“I have my first competitive event in Derbyshire on July 28 and then I have another eight before the end of the year.”
Green was born with Poland Syndrome which he explained: “It’s a deformity of my right hand and my right pectoral muscle. I’ve known no other way. I just get on with it and didn’t even realise I would be classed as a disabled athlete until the London Games.
“It does limit me on the road bike [which is adapted with both the front and back brakes accessible to his left hand] and I am not 100 per cent safe – but that’s part and parcel of being a disabled athlete I suppose. I do what I do and it doesn’t hold me back.
“Because of the length difference in my arms I am twisting and putting pressure on my shoulder and it can be a balancing act and it can be quite painful but I see that as an occupational hazard.
“I could have taken the easy route and done something else but it’s a challenge and one that I am embracing.”
Indeed, the disability has never held Green back on the football pitch either and he scored one of Huntingdon Town’s most memorable goals last season, the last-minute winner when they beat St Ives Town 3-2 in the FA Cup. Quitting the game was not an easy decision.
Asked about this, there was a moment of silence, and then Green said: “I am going to miss it but I guess I will just go out on the bike for those couple of hours and not check Twitter every two minutes for the score.
“Of course I am going to miss it, football has been a massive part of my life – it has been for a good 20 years. I’m going to miss the lads, the banter, and the football.
“I still feel I have got a bit in the tank but I don’t want to risk the chance of getting injured and I don’t think British Cycling will allow that.
“I’ve got to make sacrifices and football is one of them. It’s just a shame really.”
So how does Green rate his chances of making up the ground between himself and those of his contemporaries who have been competing at a high level in the sport?
“I’d like to think that I am already there or thereabouts,” he said. “I am a class C5 for my disability but I am a currently a Category 4 rider and that means, in football terminology, I am in the bottom league in experience.
“So I am starting as a novice experience-wise because of my lack of competitive racing or experience of racing in teams. The C5 will never change but I will move up from Cat 4.
“The development officer, Paul West, said it will be a case of being fast-tracked and I need to get as many events as I can under my belt to pick up the ranking points.
“He gave me the kick I needed when he told me the World Championships in Canada are this year in September and I won’t be there yet – that’s too close because I missed the beginning of the season – but there are the Commonwealth Games next year.
“Just him saying that alone gave me the reason to push on, live a clean lifestyle, eat healthily and do what I can to get the miles in my legs and make the Commonwealths.
“There aren’t too many cyclists like me in my class. There are thousands of me with my disability in triathlon which is a really popular fast-growing sport and my disability for triathlon is really mild whereas in cycling there are only a handful of us and I have more of a chance of excelling and doing really well on a personal level and for my country in the future.
“My goals are to pick up points over the next few months, the Commonwealth Games in Scotland next year, and then we will take it from there and see if Rio happens or not.
“I’m 32 so in cycling terms I am still young enough to do Rio and beyond.”
CRAIG Green has been helped on his way by sponsors Greeenwheel Cycles of Peterborough, who have provided him with a coach, Dan Read; Fusion (part of the BGL Group); the charity organisation Inspire Peterborough; and Cambs & Peterborough YMCA for whom he works as a gym coordinator and who are fund-matching his costs.