Martin Saych’s journey to the Paralympics began 30 years ago when a freak trampolining accident left him paralysed from the chest down, writes Sportsbeat's Alec McQuarrie.
The Ipswich para-archery star is launching his second bid for the Paralympic Games after missing out on qualification to Tokyo 2020 by a single point.
Saych was distraught following the third and final qualification event in 2020 and is now desperate to make amends and secure a spot at next summer’s games.
As a 16-year-old, Saych had just realised his dream of competing internationally in trampoline, but a one-and-three-quarter somersault gone wrong changed his life irreversibly.
Saych said: “As soon as I landed, I remember going numb, knowing that I’d done something wrong.
“I can remember my body just being pins and needles, thinking ‘what have I done?’ Getting rushed up to the hospital, I remember I had a massive headache.
“It turned out I had a big internal bleed and pressure on the brain.
“I didn’t really think at the time about future life. I can still remember that night crystal clear, waking up in hospital just after the injury. I think that will always stay with me.”
The 36-year-old’s recovery at Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Paralympics, was a lonely affair in an era without mobile phones and the internet.
To pass the time the sporty teenager tried his hand at a variety of hobbies, including archery, but settled on wheelchair rugby instead.
Fast forward to 2017 and Saych picked up the bow again, joining the Para- Archery GB squad just 18 months on from entering the programme.
“It’s odd,” said Saych. “I look back and think about one of those early memories in the hospital and I’m sort of glad it happened to me, because I know a lot of my friends at the time probably wouldn’t have coped.
“I think that mental strength helped me get through those early days and if it wasn’t for my accident, I wouldn’t be here now.
“I wouldn’t be competing for my country or talking to you. I’d be doing a random job.
“And so I think to myself that I was lucky I had that accident. I put up with a lot and cope with a lot with my disability, but the benefits definitely outweigh everything else.”
Saych is one of over 1,000 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing him to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering medical support – this is vital for his pathway to the Paris 2024 Games.
With the Paris 2024 Paralympics only one year away, the Games are set to inspire people and communities all across the country. Saych hopes that by sharing his story it will give others motivation to get involved into sport.
Looking ahead, the keen photographer is sure that the disappointment of Tokyo 2020 is the perfect preparation for the European Championships coming up.
Saych recalled: “It was the last chance saloon. In the last end I was one point off missing a draw and then a single arrow shoot-out. I was that close.
“I was down for quite a while, thinking about how close I was. Hopefully I’ll get there this time.
“But you’ve got to take what experience you can and use it to help strive me on now.
“I was going to say the more experience, the easier it is, but it’s never easy. The more experience, the more prepared you are for the next match.”
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