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Daniel Hooker successfully competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, participating in the Men’s 100m T37 Final. We talk to him about the experience of competing in the Commonwealth Games, what challenges he faced preparing for the event as an athlete with cerebral palsy, and what he plans to do next.

Daniel, congratulations on your success at the Commonwealth Games. How did you find the experience in Glasgow?

Glasgow was amazing. If you want to break into the elite level of sport you have to treat yourself and your training as a big deal and it was wonderful to be in an environment where you were treated as a big deal by everyone around you and everyone wanted to help you to run as fast as possible, from your team coaches helping you at sessions to the physios helping you recover to your maximum after sessions, from the volunteers in the village answering any questions you had, to the people in the stadium roaring you on.

It was a very intense environment. I’m very nervous before races – I’ve never been so stressed before a race as I was before my heat in the morning. I usually get wound up about 24 hours before a race but this time it was 72 hours before! Every England athlete is picked on the expectation that you can come top eight. I knew I had been a marginal pick for the team and I so wanted to pay back Peter Stanley the Head Coach for having the faith in me by making the final which guarantees top eight. In the morning the crowd noise bounced off me, I was so in the zone and focused. I was aware of it but I didn’t really react to it emotionally. I ran a really good solid race and punched the air as I crossed the line because I knew I’d done enough. It was only after I made the final that I was able to really take any of it in, especially after I saw my parents in the crowd straight after I knew I’d qualified.

The evening was a lot more fun – I was singing along to the crowd karaoke of ‘Sweet Caroline’ as I set my blocks up and I was fighting back tears when I was announced to the crowd and got such a roar. It actually helped relax me because I got a great start; I was in second place after 30 metres. I was never going to stay there; my acceleration is excellent but my top speed and speed endurance less so. My target going in was 5th but unfortunately I’d warmed up too much and my legs went away from me as soon as I got out of the acceleration phase. I fell back to 7th in the last 20 metres, falling over after a desperate dive for the line to try and claw back 6th.

But I did what I was selected for. Peter gave me a huge hug at the Closing Ceremony and told me that I’d done the job. That was the best moment of my life.

What was your training like in preparation for the games?

During the winter I was training six days a week, with double sessions three days a week, every week from September through to March. This was a mixture of sprint sessions, plyometric sessions, weightlifting and circuit training. I was then injured for much of April and May which was my qualifying period with ligament damage to my right knee so I was just training as much as my body would allow.

The final eight weeks after being selected at the end of May in the run-up to the Games were very disrupted because I had picked up a new injury – this time a knee tendon injury which made it very hard to put any real force through my left knee. I could hardly walk the day before I ran my qualification race but had to give it a go given the stakes. Thankfully with a lot of anti-inflammation cream I was able to run, albeit struggling at the back end of the race. So for the final eight weeks I was doing a lot of rehab work in the gym and running on grass, just working on my general fitness at a time when I wanted to be doing speed work, having already missed a lot of that in April and May. Fortunately with help from Danielle at Leyton Sports Massage and my physio Jon Pringle in Oxford I was able to get back into proper speed training three weeks out from the Games and at Training Camp and the Village itself get just about sharp enough to deliver my two best races of the season at the Games!

As an athlete with cerebral palsy, was your training regime different in any way to non-affected athletes preparing for the games?

It’s hard to answer that as I don’t know exactly what everyone else was doing. The main thing is that I have to be much more aware of my body tightening up on me because my condition means my muscles are tight anyway even before training. Therefore especially around competition time I need to keep things short and sharp to give myself good recovery time and avoid tightening up. One good thing is that it means I can’t have ice baths as the cold doesn’t help my muscles!

You decided to be your own coach for this year’s events in Glasgow – how did that differ from when you worked with a coach?

It was something I’d thought about doing for a while as I’d started to coach some other athletes, which I really enjoyed, and I had always tried to understand my training and why I was doing what I did. The main thing about coaching yourself is that you have to be much more aware of your body both in terms of whether the training is too hard for it and in terms of what you’re doing technically. No one is going to tell you if your technique is wrong or you are over-training and becoming fatigued so you have to pay attention more. Whereas before, even if you try to do that as I did the decision on what you do is ultimately up to your coach so you can be a bit less focused on it. It’s more intense because you always have to be switched on mentally in sessions and think more about your training away from sessions as ultimately the decisions fall to you. But that was a good thing as it meant I had no excuses.

You had regular massages with us at Leyton Sports Massage leading up to your event. How did having a regular massage affect your training?

As I said earlier, my body tightens up really quickly. I used to have massage once a week when I was in Oxford and had massage about once a fortnight at Leyton Sports Massage throughout the winter. I always found that the day after my massages I would be much looser and able to put my muscles through greater ranges of motion when running which would allow me to do much better speed sessions (the most important session for any sprinter) the day after massages. In the run-up to the Games through a combination of a sponsor-type deal from Leyton Sports Massage and funding from SportsAid I could afford to have them twice a week which meant that I had that feeling of being loose for my sessions much more regularly. Danielle’s massages could also aid blood flow to my injured knee which meant that I recovered pretty quickly and was able to get on with proper training rather than rehab work earlier than would otherwise have been the case. It was crucial in my preparation.

Now that the Commonwealth Games are over, what are you planning to do next? Any more events on the horizon?

I’ve actually decided to retire. I’m relatively young (22) so it looks strange but I’m a long way off what Great Britain requires to select me for the Paralympic Games in Rio or the 2015 World Championships. Without the prospect of a major games in sight I don’t really have the motivation to keep training at the very high level that I have done during the last seven years. It’s very hard physically and mentally, it dominates every aspect of your life – the food you eat, the hours you sleep, the jobs you can take, and you need something inspiring at the end of the road to want to do it. I had a serious knee injury several years ago and I’ve never regained the same knee stability after that which has really impeded my progress, without that I really think I could have made it to the very top.

As mentioned I started coaching in the last two years. I really enjoy coaching as there is still the competitiveness and emotion of being in athletics while also using your intellect at the same time in the designing and delivery of their programme. I coach some talented and dedicated athletes and I really want to help them achieve their ambitions as I have mine. And if any of them come to the area, I’d definitely recommend Leyton Sports Massage for their massage therapy!

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