Josh Cassidy will roll by London's Parliament instead of Ottawa's during the Paralympic marathon. File photo
Name: Josh Cassidy
Events: 800 m (ranked 24th in world), 1,500 m (4th), 5,000 m (7th), marathon (1st)
Classification: T54 (wheelchair)
Associations: Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club
Previous Paralympics: 2008 – 10th, 5,000 m
By Dan Plouffe
London 2012 is Josh Cassidy’s time to shine.
The 27-year-old is at the peak of his athletic career. He overcame an incredibly challenging winter season and emerged from it stronger – so strong that he established a new wheelchair marathon world record in Boston in April.
He made his Paralympic debut in 2008 and is ready to challenge for a medal in all four of his events in London – the 800 metres, 1,500 m, 5,000 m and the marathon.
“I’ve entered my peak age in the years following (Beijing). I’ll have more going for me this time around,” Cassidy highlights. “It’s pretty crazy when every waking moment is just geared to this event. It’s draining and demanding and requires so much focus.
“I’m doing everything I can.”
Disaster after disaster
At no time was the stress of training to be on top of the world more evident than this past winter, when nothing could go right for the Ottawa Lions club athlete.
It started when Cassidy arrived in Australia for some warm-weather training. He got a phone call shortly after his arrival saying that his grandmother was in hospital – “on her deathbed with hours to live apparently,” Cassidy recalls, although she defied the odds and is now living stably in long-term care.
There was poor training, trouble coping with the heat, and equipment problems. And then came a big forced change to his pre-London plans – Cassidy wanted to minimize his race schedule prior to the Games, but he was informed that he’d have to repeat the same type of performances he traveled around to attain last season in order to qualify for the Canadian team, which had limited spots.
And then the kicker – a “puzzling” decision was made to cut his Own The Podium funding to the tune of around $15,000, leaving the part-time illustrator with some major financial struggles when he was already beaten down.
“At first I was seriously, seriously considering retirement,” Cassidy recalls. “Motivation is tough when nothing seems to be going your way and there’s no support.”
It didn’t end there. Cassidy was sick for weeks, missing training sessions and sleeping up to 12 hours a day with a mysterious illness.
“At one point the doctors thought I had cancer, so I stayed overnight in the hospital for them to do tests,” recounts the T54-classified competitor. “And I lost my wallet and couldn’t get emergency money from Visa in time.
“It was two months of that kind of stuff.”
There wasn’t any particular turning point that got Cassidy back on track – it was just having faith that he’d pull through eventually.
“It was just a mental decision that this is done,” explains the Ottawa Lion who is coached by Amanda Fader. “There is nothing more the universe can throw at me I don’t think, so let’s move forward.”
Back home in Toronto, things started to look up for the Ottawa-born athlete who was diagnosed with cancer in the spine and abdomen just weeks after birth and lost both legs above the knee.
It culminated on April 16 when Cassidy took the lead outright at the 5 km mark of the Boston Marathon and blasted forward without the aid of drafting to break the world record by two seconds in one hour, 18 minutes and 25 seconds.
“Coming through those types of setbacks and obstacles and overcoming all of them to come out with a performance like that – that’s why I’m most proud of Boston,” says Cassidy, who grew up in Port Elgin, Ont. on the shores of Lake Huron. “Now I’m grateful for it. It was one of the toughest things I’ve had to go through, but it’s one of those things you can draw confidence from in the future when obstacles come your way.”
It hasn’t quite been smooth sailing since then as Cassidy battled a mild shoulder injury and pollution-induced asthma prior to his departure for Switzerland and then London. But he’s reassured knowing what he’s come through, and driven by the thought of having the majority of his nine younger siblings in the stands along with his parents, which was made possible thanks to P&G’s Thank You Mom campaign.
Seeing the torch lit and racing in front of 90,000 people at the Bird’s Nest were major highlights for Cassidy in Beijing – now he can replicate that experience, but also add as many as four keepsakes from the London Paralympics.
“There’s no promises. There’s about 11 or 12 guys in every single event who we all agree could be on the podium. It’s just that close,” notes Cassidy. “I could come away with medals in every event, or I could come home empty-handed.
“Obviously I’m going for a medal in every event. But when people ask me what I expect of myself, the only thing is that I’m going to be in the best shape of my life.”
WED., SEPT. 5 – T11-13 4x100 M ROUND 1, 8:28 A.M. ET
WED., SEPT. 5 – T11-13 4x100 M fINAL, 4:54 P.M. ET
THU., SEPT. 6 – T11 400 M ROUND 1, 2 P.M. ET
FRI., SEPT. 7 – T11 400 M SEMIS, 5 P.M. ET
SAT., SEPT. 8 – T11 400 M FINAL, 3:51 P.M. ET