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Setting new standards

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Long-term Action supporter and all-round superstar Jody Cundy OBE made it into the record books this summer when he became the only British man to earn medals at seven consecutive Paralympics: Jody won silver in the C4-5 1km Time Trial before taking gold in the C1-5 Mixed 750m Team Sprint, setting a new world record in the process.

In his earlier sporting career, he represented Great Britain in swimming at the Paralympics before switching to cycling in 2006. We spoke to the 42-year-old stepdad-of-two from his home in Manchester about his training schedule, breaking boundaries in elite sport and why he’s looking forward to his role as an ambassador for Action at our Champions of CycleSport Dinner in November.

Are you still buzzing from your success at the Tokyo Paralympics?

It has been pretty crazy – I have never known a response to a Paralympics like this. It was pretty impressive when we got back from London in 2012 but this time Channel 4 upped their coverage to levels that we’d never seen before. I was talking to somebody who said they’d had 1,300 hours of coverage live-streamed, whereas the Olympics on the BBC only had 500 hours. So they really upped their game and have done something really special for Paralympic athletes; hopefully the coverage and the stuff that everybody has seen performance-wise has been worth it.

It feels like the time is right for equal coverage of the Paralympics and the Olympics…

It’s the one thing that as Paralympic athletes we have always asked for, just to have friends and family who can’t go to events usually be able to watch it live. And this time, it was absolutely needed because we couldn’t have any friends and family there, so they needed to have all that coverage. I think that is a really big step in the right direction.

Image of Jody Cundy at Paralympics

Has it sunk in, to be the only British man to have won medals at seven Paralympics?

I know: eight gold medals, three bronze and a silver medal at all of them! I didn’t even know that was a stat until someone mentioned it after I’d won my silver in the kilo. Dame Sarah Storey has done it at eight - she’s always been one Games ahead of me and I can’t see her ever retiring, so I don’t think I’ll ever get the out and out record! But it’s nice to be the top male on this.

Is it mind-blowing when you stop and take stock of what you’ve achieved?

It's only mind-blowing when I think back to my first games in ’96 and think that I would still be going 25 years later. They’re the points that are mind-blowing: to think that I’d be in a completely different sport, doing a completely different discipline, with a completely different outlook on life – and the general public having a different outlook on Paralympic sport and disabled people as well. I didn’t expect to be at this point but I’m enjoying every moment of it.

Is awareness growing of disabled sport, and disabilities in general?

Again, it started getting recognition in London off the back of Channel 4’s brilliant coverage of the Games when they started highlighting that there were people with disabilities out there doing amazing things. People ended up watching the Paralympics for elite sport as opposed to looking at it for the stories that you usually associate with the Paralympics.

With that has come the identification of lots of different disabilities and lots of different ways people can get around having those disabilities, the ways they adapt. Then you have The Last Leg with their whole #isitOK campaign – that’s just gone from strength to strength and people now don’t have that barrier to ask the questions. I often get kids looking at me in the summer when I’ve got shorts on; their mums and dads tell them that it’s rude to stare but it’s not rude. They want to find out: it’s a carbon leg, you don’t see them every day.

At the end of the day, it’s just a way of life, it’s no different to seeing somebody in a wheelchair or somebody doing something different. It’s nice that there’s an awareness now. It’s nice that people are understanding disabilities a lot more, the limitations and also the non-limitations that we have. There will be more questions about it, but also more answers and more knowledge. It is a better place to be. There is still a lot of work to do on accessibility and transport needs for wheelchair users or people with mobility issues, but that recognition goes a long way to helping those.

What does your typical weekly routine look like when training?

I’m on track three times a week: I’ll have three sessions where there will be key sessions on the track. All of those sessions involve starts, which are a really key component of what I do in the 1km time trial. It is essential to get off the line really quickly so that strength and that technique you need to do that is one of those key skills. One day will be a proper starts session and the other two, the starts will just be a small focus of it.

The other days will either be speed sessions or longer speed/ strength sessions. They’re usually the nastier sessions on the track because they hurt just a little bit more! Everything else tends to be shorter: we do lots of repeats of efforts but really short, highly intense ones and then loads of rests. That seems to be the way in the sprint life – you do three or four efforts and then sit down for half an hour and have a chat about how everybody else is doing, then you change gears and go again.

In between that I’ll have road riding so the base mileage is in there; once or twice a week I’ll have two- or three-hour rides, accumulating a bit of endurance and a bit of fatigue in the legs. I used to commute in and out of the track and it got to the point where I just didn’t like the roads riding in, so I took that off-road and now the hour of commuting I would do, I just jump on my mountain bike and bomb up and down the River Mersey. It’s quite picturesque, there’s plenty of grass and scenery and it’s pretty peaceful but it feels like cheat training because I’m basically just enjoying riding my bike!

Then I’ll have two gym sessions on top of that: they’ll be strength-based sessions to build strength and power. One tends to be a big heavy weights session and one tends to be a loading session so there will be more reps but slightly less weights.

And on top I have two sessions a week where it’s a turbo session of some sort, in the garage, on the turbo, usually on Zwift for training sessions that are specific to the needs of the kilo. Because we don’t get to do the amount of road riding we want to do, because we want to be on the track or in the gym, we try to use those sessions as interval sessions to increase my fitness in the shortest way possible.

Do you get a rest day?

Typically, Sunday is declared a rest day but I usually find myself going out on my bike. Saturday is usually the endurance ride and it’s track on the Monday so it’s almost a shock to the system not having done anything the day before. So even if it’s just an hour’s spin with the kids or my partner, or just getting out on the bike on my own, that’s nice just to keep the legs turning. It’s more of a rest/ recovery day.

Do you keep a close eye on your nutrition?

It is more common sense: make sure you are not over-eating so you’re not putting on weight; make sure you’ve got enough energy and protein in there to fuel your body as you go through all your training sessions. If there’s any help that we need then we can get in touch with our nutritionist and see if we need to make any changes, but really it’s just common sense: lots of wholegrains and fruit and veg with a nice high protein content in there, and leaving out processed meats and sugars.

Also it’s about speed because you want to come home from training and whip it up quickly, you don’t want to spend two hours preparing a meal. So it’s all about being prepared and making life easier with meals that take 20 or 30 minutes to turn around. And that works with the kids too – when they say they’re hungry, they’re hungry!

You’ve been a supporter of Action for a while now – why is it a cause that’s close to your heart?

I actually attended the Champions of CycleSport Dinner first and then found out about the charity second. As soon as I found out about Action, and the background that they have, I realised it was a great charity to support. I thought I get to do two things at the same time: to ride my bike and be a cycling ‘celeb’ and encourage people to do what I love to do, and also to raise funds for the charity work that Action Medical Research do, and have done over the years to help people’s lives in many, many different ways. I’m looking forward to getting my dicky-bow out and having a great evening on November 18th. 

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