Sunderland-born athlete Josh Waddell still has his sights set on sporting glory

The Tokyo Paralympics may have been moved to this year but Sunderland-born athlete Josh Waddell still has his sights set on sporting glory.

Monday, 18th January 2021, 3:24 pm
Sunderland-born athlete Josh Waddell still has his sights set on sporting glory.

Josh, who is only 17, has had a meteoric rise over the last few years, making him already the number one-ranked disability fencer for his age and already comfortably inside the world’s top 32 senior rankings, but the young man is certainly not content with his progress to this point.

“It’s just a case of experience and trusting the process, I need to just carry on learning, I can’t let myself become satisfied with my achievements,” he said.

“After lockdown, I got back to a high-performance level really quickly, which I am pleased about, it’s just annoying because there are no competitions for a while and that’s really the best way to judge where I am at.”

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With the global pandemic causing disruption to so many elite athletes, Waddell has had to find unique ways to keep himself sharp.

“I made a fake arm out of a yoga mat and wedged it in my wardrobe drawers and I would just sit and practice on that for hours, I went for long pushes in the chair, sometimes 8km to keep my fitness up, and just tried to make the best of it,” he said.

Waddell was born as a triplet along with his two sisters.

However, he was the only one of the three to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Despite this, Waddell insists he feels lucky to have such a strong family dynamic behind his sporting aspirations.

“I think I do get motivation from my disability, but I think it’s more just a case of my sisters being my harshest critics,” he said.

"After I won gold (at the Junior World Championships), they just told me to win another one, they keep me grounded if I ever get too confident so I think that is a good thing.”

The sixth form student insists he gets his motivation from the environment around him: “There is no one person who motivates me, it’s all the people around me, my family put up with me when I’m being difficult or grumpy after training, they keep me going and they back me 100%, and that’s the same with all my coaches.

"So I feel if I don’t give them all the effort I have, I feel I am discrediting them, I still have to show them progress no matter how I am feeling”.

Competing at elite level sport takes time and effort, but in Josh’s case he has to contend with studying for his A-levels next spring, along with the obvious challenges his disability brings to everyday life.

“I try to reduce the amount of time I spend procrastinating,” he said.

“I have found it quite easy to manage my time, it has made me a lot more productive. I have my A-Levels next year so they have to take priority, but I have an outside chance of Tokyo, despite my age. My main goal, however, is to go to Paris (in 2024) and medal there and I am certainly capable of that.”

For one so young, Waddell has a great head on his shoulders and his confidence in his own ability shines through.

“Going to one Paralympic games would be nice, and winning of course, but I want to go to three – triple Paralympic champion sounds a lot better to me. Maybe I am being greedy but that’s just how I look at it,” said the youngster, who was also not afraid to talk about what he wants to see when he eventually looks back on his sporting career.

“All I want is to say I enjoyed it,” he said.

“Looking back regardless of what happens, I want to learn from it. Not many people get to experience the things I have and I count myself very lucky for that.

"I don’t care if people don’t remember my name, I just want people who know me to remember my journey and relate that to themselves. I am here to enjoy the process, and I know I will never be satisfied and I will have some regrets but as long as I enjoy it I’ll be happy.”

Since the 2012 Paralympic games in London, the growth of disability sports has been infused into the public consciousness, but Waddell believes more can be done to make disability fencing more inclusive in the UK.

He said: “I think first we need more funding. I am a self-funded athlete, so if we can pay for more people to be elite level athletes that’s only going to get greater exposure, then it becomes more inclusive and more people will want to join in.

“The equipment is expensive and that limits the people who can take part, so if we have a greater media presence that will only help it grow and make it more accessible. GB are really good for Paralympic fencers. We have two senior world number ones, and with me we have a strong team going forward.”

Even with the success Waddell has had in his young career, the swordsman still tries to take inspiration from anywhere he can.

“I love looking at Michael Phelps and his consistency at the top level, then someone like Tom Brady from the NFL inspires me, the way he started from the bottom and worked his way up and his drive and persistence,” said Waddell.

“Then you have the mindset of Michael Jordan and that attitude that it’s never enough and always wanting more – that’s a great way to think. I take things from lots of different great athletes, as no one athlete is perfect, then I take what I have and I go from there.”