Last night I heard the sad news of the loss of the true icon of Paralympic sport, Chris Hallam MBE, and felt compelled to share some thoughts and memories.
Hindsight is ofted 20 20, and for me this is particularly true with Chris. I have to admit he was to me something of an intimidating figure as I prepared for the 1992 and 1996 Paralympic Games, and not just because of his performances, which were seriously impressive.
Here was a man who, with equipment vastly inferior to todays wheelchair athletes, had twice won the London Marathon setting course records with each victory. He won medals at each of the three Paralympic Games he competed at, and represented his home nation of Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne back in 1994.
Another clear demonstration of the man and his sheer strength of will was in 1997 when he and another great athlete John Harris pushed their way through 600 miles around Wales to raise money for the first fully accessible sport centre in the country. As if that wasn’t enough, Chris was on dialysis at the time and had a kidney transplant a few years later.
But that wasn’t all. Chris brought with him an air of supreme self-confidence and many (myself included) mistook that, along with the shades, the perm, the highlights in the hair, the perfect tan and the leopard skin racing chair and matching racing suit, to be arrogance.
It was all the trappings of a man who had done his preparation, done the hour upon hour on the track, in the gym, in the pool, who had worked harder than any of his competitors and he knew it.
He brought that professionalism that was new to disability and paralympic sport, that total commitment to winning, and brought an abrasiveness the sport desperately needed and dragged countless athletes kicking and screaming into the cold light of day with him.
I believe it is because of Chris Hallam MBE and others like him that disability and Paralympic Sport is where it is now, and has the profile and most significantly for him, has the level of professionalism in the athletes and organisations it does today.
Chris had the highest expectations of himself and those around him, and woe be tide you if you failed to meet them. He left no stone unturned, left nothing to chance in his preparation and his attitude.
The first professional in Paralympic sport and every athlete competing now should recognise we stand on the shoulders of a giant.