In this exclusive two-part interview, we look into the mindset of champion Richard Vincent Chiassaro both on and off the track.
Richard Vincent Chiassaro is the current number one ranked British 100m Paralympic Athlete (and sixth in the world) with realistic hopes of medaling in Rio if selected. Richard is sponsored by both Nissan and Active Essex.
1. Let’s start by finding out: who is Richard Vincent Chiassaro?
I was born in Harlow in 1981 and grew up here. I have four brothers, one a twin. My dad died a year ago of cancer and was really supportive of what I was doing. In fact, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing today if it wasn't for him. He was a great man. My mum has been to many of my games and races, and I always hear her shouting her support from the sidelines.
I have a five year old boy named Leo who thinks he is disabled as he loves playing in all my wheelchairs. He is very talented at most sports and has been involved in sports through me from a very young age. This is a link to him at eighteen months old playing in my chair and shooting into a basketball net.
I met my girlfriend at the track as she trained with me for a few years. We just seem to get on and like doing same things. We’re coming up on our three year anniversary. In that time, I can honestly say that she has only missed a couple of my races.
Growing up with a disability was hard at times, but I think that's what gave me the attitude I have today. I don't quit. I get things done no matter what they are, and I use my experience to help kids growing up with disabilities. I've had kids at school tease me for being in a chair, but I think it was just ignorance as they didn't know how to be around someone like me. I got into trouble at school for fighting with kids and doing stupid things that kids do, but I look back at that time as part of growing up and learning to live with a disability.
I have a great network of support from my friends that no matter when or where any of us are, if we want something, we’re there for each other. We don't see each other for months on occasions, but one call and we are all there. That is a sign of true friendship to me.
2. How did you get selected to represent Great Britain? What does it mean to you to represent Britain?
Growing up, I wanted to be in the army or fire brigade, but as I grew up, I realized being in a wheelchair—that wasn't going to happen. I started paying basketball for fun but never dreamed that one day this would lead to me being selected to represent Team GB. I was quick in a basketball chair so was asked to coach at an athletics squad to help children with all sorts of disabilities have a better life.
At the session was the first time I saw a racing chair. More out of curiosity of just how quick I could go in a chair designed specifically for racing, I thought I would give it a try. Imagine my surprise when I ended up breaking the county (equivalent of a state in the U.S.) records with no specific training! It was at this point I realized I might have a talent for racing.
I trained for two years with local coach Ken Day and got my first call up to team GB in 2012 at the BT Paralympic World Cup. My event was the 100m, and I won gold, which I was so pleased with but knew I had more in me.
Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for London 2012 which was a hard blow for me to take, but looking back I would not have been ready to compete so not being selected was the correct decision from the selectors. I felt I was ready at the time, and my PB would have placed me 5th in final, but I lacked racing experience.
Now I'm ranked sixth in world, 0.3 seconds from being ranked number one.
3. What does your training week look like leading up to the qualifiers for Rio?
Being selected for Team GB, I'm lucky enough to be coached by their coaches. I'm under a coach called Jenni Banks, and she sends me training logs of sessions every week, and we train together and do a lot of testing on my fitness and chair position. My sessions are sprint based at the moment, but I've moved up to 800m and 1500m. So sometimes the sessions can be very different from week to week.
My nutrition used to be really bad; I would eat fast food all the time, or I wouldn't eat for hours then have big meals. It wasn't good for my body with the type of training I was doing as I was placing my body under a lot of stress, but not giving it what it needed to recover. Now I'm on the world class performance program, and I get all my nutrition monitored, but I do have my own nutritionist (Matt Chapman) who I go to for advice and information on what to eat leading up to big competitions, especially if I'm under heavy loading like heats finals all in one day, for example.
4. What goes through your mind before a race?
I get very nervous before each race because I'm scared of failing, but as soon as I hear ON YOUR MARKS, my mind zones out like tunnel vision on the finishing line. During the race, I only hear the impact on wheels of the other racers.
5. What are your current goals?
My main goal this year is to be selected for the World Championships in Doha and the Olympics in Rio next year. My lifetime goal and what I want most is to hold all the British records, but I have to beat the mighty David Weir to achieve this. I am close on the sprints, but over distance I have more a lot more work to do. However, I honestly believe I will achieve my goal.
6. What sacrifices have you had to make to compete at the very top?
To be a top athlete competing on the world stage, you have to devote your entire life to training. You spend more time at the track than you do at home. You don't see your family, your partner, or even your kids at times, but that's what it takes to compete at this level. If you’re not willing to make these sacrifices, then you won't compete at this level.
Sixty hours training for sixty seconds on track is an accurate statement of the level of commitment needed to compete at the top level.
7. What has been your biggest achievement to date, and what has been your biggest disappointment?
My biggest achievement so far is breaking 14:40 seconds over 100m and getting to 48 seconds over 400m. That was my hardest and most fulfilling achievement to date.
My biggest disappointment is not being picked for London 2012, but that is something I am hoping to put right by being selected for Rio 2016.
Richard, in his own time, is fundraising to help with the equipment costs for the disabled kids he coaches. Please go to GoFundMe.com to see the work Richard is doing in helping support disabled children have a better quality of life.
Check back for part two of this exclusive interview where we look more into the personal side of Richard Vincent Chiassaro.