Guest post from Craig Green. Craig turned his life around after a spell in prison, and is now a Paralympic cyclist with an eye on Rio 2016. His story is part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.
I’m the manager of a YMCA gym in Peterborough that works specifically with disabled people.
We’re a community gym – disabled people can come here and know they’re not only going to get a good service, but that they’re going to meet like-minded people.
I’ve found that because I’m visibly disabled myself, people feel at ease the moment they come in. I’m missing the fingers on my right hand, and my right pectoral muscles – although no one really knows that when I’m wearing my clothes!
How life has changed
Five years ago my life was very different – I’m not proud of my past, but it’s certainly shaped me to be the person I am.
When I was at school, I was told I’d never be able to get into a trade – bricklayer, plumber, carpet fitter – because of my arm. It was what all my friends were doing and I was never really told about any other options.
I tried out for the army and the fire service. I was fit enough for it, but I failed the test because I was slower at things like climbing. They saw my disability and basically said, ‘Look, we can’t do anything for you’.
I went through some jobs in factories, and after that there was nothing really. I ended up going down the wrong path, and got involved with things I shouldn’t have.
Time in prison
One Thursday morning in July 2010, I was arrested. I was eventually sent to prison for four years for drugs offences. I left behind my girlfriend and 15-month old daughter.
The turning point for me was the moment I got arrested – it was the pivotal moment for me, and I’d never take that back. I did a lot of growing up, and started visualising a future. I got myself fit in my cell, and started volunteering at the prison gym.
After a year I was allowed to volunteer outside of the prison – that’s when I started volunteering at the YMCA gym, and met Julie, who is my boss now. When I was released in 2012, I carried on volunteering there. In January 2013 the manager’s job came up, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
Getting into cycling
In 2013 I did the London Marathon, and soon afterwards I stumbled across an event in Sheffield called Sportsfest, which showcases all the Paralympic sports and invites disabled people to try out.
I met some people from British Cycling, and they asked me to do a trial on a static bike. It was only six days after the marathon, so my legs were in bits. I’d lost almost every toenail!
But I had a go, and they basically said ‘Wow – where have you been all this time?’
My first ever race was the national championships in July 2013. I came twelfth and was not overly disappointed, but I knew I could do better. Two months later I did another race in Sunderland, and was the first disabled rider over the line.
Setting my sights on Rio
I was introduced to my coach, Adam Ellis, in March 2014. He got me on a training programme, and since I’ve been working with him, results have been getting better and better.
In July I went out to the cycling World Cup in Spain, and came 20th in the road race out of all the top disabled riders in the world. That’s a great result, but I’m still not happy.
I’ve started thinking of the bigger picture. I’m on British Cycling’s radar already, but I still have a lot to prove – and I want to make Team GB at the Paralympics in 2016.
Every rider who’s got aspirations to go to Rio needs to be picked by this September, so I’ve got eight months to make the grade. All my time, effort, blood, sweat and tears is geared to me making that cut.
If it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world. I run a gym, I’m a partner, I’m now a dad of two – and then I’m a cyclist on top of that. I’m not a robot who rides a bike.
But I know what I’m capable of, and I know with the right training, the right equipment, the right support network around me, that I can go all the way. Somebody’s got to, so why shouldn’t it be me?