Josh Cassidy was the last to cross the finish line in the T54 men's 1,500 m final on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at Olympic Stadium in London. Photo: Ian Ewing
By Dan Plouffe
These weren’t the Paralympic Games Josh Cassidy envisioned, or deserved.
To this point, the Ottawa Lions wheelchair racer has:
-- missed the 5,000 m final by a fifth of a second, his pre-race routine and warm-up thrown into disarray when he was sent on a bus to the training track instead of the Olympic Stadium
-- raced a courageous 1,500 m final Tuesday evening but wound up in last place
-- squeaked through Wednesday morning’s heats to qualify on time for Thursday evening's 800 m final
After the 800, Cassidy will prepare for his biggest test yet – Sunday's marathon, the event in which he holds the world record.
But what Cassidy really needs at the moment is rest. The 27-year-old was hit by an illness before the Games and was on antibiotics just before he needed to be in top form.
“We didn’t really get to the bottom of what it was,” Cassidy explained after racing in front of 80,000 in the 1,500 m final. “I think I’m better, but I’m still just tired and recovering. I’m sleeping eight hours a night and taking two naps a day and I’m still bagged. My body’s been a bit drained.”
Not being at his best for the most important week in four years has been a major mental challenge for the Ottawa-born athlete.
“I’ve been working 12 years for this moment and for something to be out of my hands that I can’t control is the hardest thing for me to deal with,” Cassidy described. “I’m used to any obstacle that I come up against I’ll find a way to overcome it.”
Cassidy wrote a heartfelt blog post
explaining his situation to supporters the morning after he missed the 5,000 m final.
“I wrote it out, got it out of my system,” said the T54-classified athlete. “I was completely fine (mentally) by that time, but I felt like I’m not better yet, and people were like, ‘It’s alright, you’ve got the next one.’
“I knew I was going to give it everything, but I kind of felt like all the hundreds and hundreds of people that have been supporting me back home deserved to know.”
In the 1,500 m final, Cassidy’s head and heart were in the right place, but his body didn’t follow. Cassidy made a move to the outside and entered the bell lap in first place by a tiny margin, giving himself the opportunity to make a run at the medals. But he wound up fading and finished 10th in 3:14.70 – still just 2.61 seconds shy of Great Britain’s David Weir, who won his second gold of the Games.
“It’s kind of tactics and I didn’t want to get caught up in the back,” Cassidy noted. “I wanted to be near David. I think he kind of appreciated me keeping the way clear for him. (...) I’m super happy for David. He’s a good buddy of mine, he’s got so much pressure here, so for him to come out on top of it here, he totally deserves it.”
Prior to the Paralympics, Cassidy it would be a tough battle for him to get on the podium in any event, although he also believed he could have been there in every event.
“All these guys are almost in tears,” highlighted the personable athlete who is the oldest of 10 siblings. “Everyone here has a chance. There’s a guy that didn’t make the finals who won the bronze in the 5,000 the other night. Everybody here has a chance at a medal.
“The mental preparation to come here and be ready for this and to believe in yourself – there’s a hard crash if you don’t get it.”
It helps knowing there’s support from so many in London and back home no matter what happens, Cassidy added. And regardless of how his last race turns out, he said he’ll be proud of his efforts in London.
“It’s everything in the past (that I’m proud of),” Cassidy explained. “In the past four years, I’ve done absolutely everything that I can. I’ve been an intense, focused, secluded person, and that’s just because I didn’t want to have any regrets when I came here.
“Sure enough, the one thing I can’t control is being under the weather. But I have zero regrets at the moment.”