Paralympic wheelchair racer David Weir was born with a spinal cord transection
Weir is one of the winningest Paralympians on Team GB
He's starting an academy to help train future wheelchair athletes
Editor’s Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week, British Paralympic hero David Weir shares his story.
David Weir is to Paralympic wheelchair racing in the United Kingdom as Michael Phelps is to swimming in the United States.
Meeting this unassuming 33-year-old, you wouldn’t know that he’s one of the winningest British Paralympic athletes on Team GB. But Weir’s victories – six gold, two silver and two bronze medals and six London Marathon wins – didn’t come easily for him.
Born with a spinal cord transection (shearing or compression of the spinal cord) that left him with feeling in his legs but no movement, Weir had to carve his own path to becoming the sports star he always hoped he could be.
CNN sat down with Weir after a recent training session in London:
CNN: What was it about sports that always appealed to you?
David Weir: My family was very sports-oriented. My brothers were boxers – one was professional; one was amateur. I just got the bug for sports at an early age. So I used to go see them fight when I was like 4 years old. I decided I wanted to do sports, but obviously I couldn’t do boxing or football, which were my love, so I had to find a sport that was suitable for my needs.
CNN: You’ve won 10 Paralympic medals; you’ve won the London Marathon six times, and you’ve won the New York Marathon. What drives you?
Weir: I don’t know really. I thought I wouldn’t have any drive left after London. And I think it’s just the way I ran my races. I won them convincingly, with a big gap. I didn’t win them by millimeters or (a) photo finish like I’ve done previous years leading up to London.
When I started fully focusing (on) training for London, and training with the cyclists you’ve seen today, I got that extra bit out of me. After the games, I watched my races back and saw that I was winning by a good margin, and I think that just showed me that “Hold up, Dave, there’s still a bit of life in you.”
CNN: You’re working on starting an academy with your coach Jenny Archer to help train future wheelchair athletes. Why?
Weir: I’m just more of a mentor – I try and get down there as much as I can, but Jenny is the one that does the full program; she’s brilliant with them. I’m just there to encourage them really, give them advice and tactics, and a way to push and way to sit in their racing chair, because I’ve got a lot of knowledge over the years.
So I’m just trying to give back what I know to the next generation coming through because Great Britain has a great tradition of wheelchair racers over the years, so I don’t want to see it die. So I’m trying to give back what I had as a youngster.
CNN: You’re David Weir the athlete, but there’s also David Weir the father. What do your kids think about all of this?
Weir: Well, my youngest children haven’t got a clue at the moment because they’re too young, but my oldest girl who’s 10 – she’s so proud and happy for me, and obviously my girlfriend is so supportive. They’re just the world to me. It’s another training tool – when Mason was born and if I’d have a bad training session, I’d go back and see his smiley, happy face, and I would forget about that training session and move on to the next day.
CNN: Any plans for Rio in 2016?
Weir: Each month as it gets closer, I seem to change my mind if I’m going to Rio. I want to do small targets first, really. I’ll be 34 this year. I need to have an offish year so I can do what races I really want to do. But I’m going to have a two-year target, I think, because I think if I say yes, I’m definitely in for Rio.
It’s a lot of pressure on me, and four years is a long time when you’re 34. So I’m going to take each year as it comes really, and make my decision near the time I think, but if you asked me six, seven months ago, I would have said no way – London was my last big target. We’ll see how it goes – if I can still win races and perform at a high level, I can’t see why not. We’ll see. Come and ask me in six months’ time; I’ll probably give you a totally different answer then.