Sam Ruddock: Becoming a Paralympic sprinter in nine months
It is a tale Sam Ruddock has been asked to tell a thousand times but one that not enough have heard. As a 21-year-old American football player completing his final year as a university student, he was plucked from obscurity to be part of the UKA’s Aviva Parallel Success programme in December 2011 despite having no past formal sprint training.
Competing in a 40-yard run as part of his training session, it was a coincidence that sprint coach Joe McDonnell, who just happened to be overseeing his own class at the time, was there to spot Ruddock’s talent and advise him to take up disability sprinting.
Six months on and two medals – gold and silver in the 100m and 200m, respectively – from his first International event at the IPC Croatian Open, Ruddock received a phone call he never expected. At the other end of the line was head coach Peter Eriksson, informing Ruddock that he had achieved a place on the athletics team for the Paralympic Games.
“I graduated with a first about two days after I got the call saying that I would get my Paralympic debut in London,” Ruddock recalls. “I had just cashed in on three years of hard work, studying and playing American football at Loughborough. It was the start of a truly amazing summer.”
That dedication by Ruddock carved his body into a dependable frame to fulfill the requirements of becoming a sprinter. Though in truth, not only did his body composition need altering but he also had to contend directly with his disability in a manner never done before.
“Physically, it’s completely different [to American football] because of the greater focus athletics naturally puts on my lower body, which it certainly wasn’t used to,” he says. “Every track session is a battle with my cerebral palsy, it’s tough going but I’m starting to teach my legs to work harder to get to that finish line quicker. I think half my reason for being selected was because of the attitude I already had towards sport. I was very committed and very professional.”
The desire saw him finish ninth in both the T35 100m and 200m races, running a personal best in the latter, at a packed Olympic Stadium just nine months after taking up the sport.
“It was the greatest event to showcase elite disability sport in the history of the Games. And it was at home,” he explains. “It honestly was the highest honour I’ve ever received; to have done in months what it takes most athletes years to achieve just made it even more precious.”
But how does an athlete as young in their profession as Ruddock maintain such continued growth, especially when coming into the sport so swiftly?
“Since the Games, I’ve been working on my fitness because it’s officially my first winter season in the sport,” he says. “It’s such hard work but it’s a challenge I relish and I’m really enjoying it.
“I’m also doing quite a lot of core and strength workouts, targeting my hips, glutes and other key lower leg muscles that are severely underdeveloped and weak because of my spasticity.”
What Ruddock truly harbours is a self-belief to succeed and his disciplined outlook has its sights set on 2016.
“I know one day I’ll be fast enough to call myself a Paralympic Champion,” he says. “It’s a long way off until Rio but it’s what I want and I’m prepared to sweat and bleed to get that gold in Brazil.”
Twenty twelve has been unrivaled in Ruddock’s eyes – and it is enlightening to see an athlete so quickly propelled into the whirlwind of the Games, striving to guide the momentum created by it to benefit others.
“We changed so many lives this summer. It’s crucial we tell these people that we are not special or unique, if they want to get the best they can in their studies or represent their country in sport,” he explains. “All they have to do is set their goals, plan how to reach them and be prepared for obstacles and bumps in the road.
“How they deal with them will determine their success. That’s what I share and I love to do it. I mean, there’s nothing better than making others feel happy, right?”