James Fox |

‘With rolling momentum, and a spot of luck, we’ll be on world-beating form come Paralympic finals day’

2016 Paralympic champion James Fox looks forward to racing at the Paralympic regatta in Tokyo where he will defend his title in the PR3 mixed coxed four

It’s easy to feel like things are starting to close in as I sit in my hotel room in Reading, watching the Olympics, on the final work camp of the Paralympiad before we head out to the Paralympics for our turn to play.

Today – 27 July – marks one month until our first race on the Sea Forest Waterway and watching Team GB compete is helping to settle the nerves. In this world of uncertainty nobody knows what other countries have been up to over the past 18 months. It’s no secret that the UK has been one of the countries in the world hit hardest by lockdown restrictions and cases per capita – but the Brits have come out swinging. On top of the bucket-loads of national pride the Olympics is giving everybody back home, it’s giving us the reassurance that we can do it too.

Our Paralympic preparation hasn’t been without its challenges though; we have been plagued with injury and (non-COVID related, thankfully) illness since January and time in the four has been precious.

“I remember the overwhelming emotion when we crossed the line was relief that we hadn’t fluffed it”

In our squad we have the mantra that if we train hard enough and smart enough that we could win even on our worst day and at some points this year it has felt like we may just have to put that into practice. Thankfully, at the eleventh hour, we seem to have turned a corner and the speeds have come with it.

With rolling momentum, and possibly a spot of luck, we’ll be on world-beating form come finals day. After all, it’s not the first time we’ve had a rough run in – the 2016 Paralympics in Rio was a similar story, but we pushed hard into the final weeks, raced well, and snatched the win. I remember the overwhelming emotion when we crossed the line was relief that we hadn’t fluffed it and that was hard to get my head around. If we get it right this time, I’m hoping to be overwhelmed with joy instead.

Hitting the one month to go marker means one more thing: thinking about what to do post-Tokyo.

It’s been my goal to row for the national team since I watched the Athens Games in 2004 and I can honestly say I am living my dream now. But rowing is tough. It leaves little time for a normal life, and it really beats up your body. I’ve had surgery and injections to get me to this point and I’m now old enough to know better.

On the flip side, due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020, there will be only three years instead of four until the next Paralympics in Paris, so why would I not give it a punt?

My mum – whilst incredibly proud of what I do – asks why I keep going during the depths of winter when everything hurts and groans in concern when I mumble about doing another cycle. I don’t really have an answer to that, mum, but if I could show you the feeling of chugging through the rest of the field in the third 500m of a final then I think you’d push me to do another one.

Let’s see how Tokyo goes first.

The Road to Tokyo

Hear more from James Fox in British Rowing’s documentary The Road to Tokyo which follows the GB Rowing Team and tells the athletes’ stories as they strive for selection for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. All three episodes are available free here.

Photo: AllMarkOne