As athletes all over the UK are learning to live in lockdown Ross Wilson is better equipped than most to handle the enforced inactivity. “Paralympians are used to overcoming challenges – it’s in our DNA,” he once said during one period of recovery from the many injuries he has had to contend with in his relatively short career. This included two years away from the sport after winning a team bronze at London 2012 at the age of 17 and just when, world ranked number two in men’s class 8, it appeared that he was on the brink of a brilliant career.
Wilson finally fulfilled that promise in 2018 by winning the World and Commonwealth titles and was focused on adding the Paralympic title in Tokyo this summer. With that dream now on hold until 2021 the 24 year old is treating the setback with typical equanimity.
“It is really strange,” he admitted, “because at the beginning of the year – and for a couple of years really – I’ve had Tokyo in my head and everything I’ve been doing has been aimed at preparing for Tokyo this year. That is why I’ve been playing league matches in Switzerland and going away for training in different countries and things like that. Now that it has been put back a year I have to keep the same mentality and do what I can to keep improving. All I can do at the moment is keep on top of my fitness, appreciate what I’ve got and help everyone that I can – not just for them but for myself as well so that I know I am doing something and not just sitting at home doing nothing.
“Mentally I’m ok with this situation. I understand what it is like getting back after long injuries and that does partly help but right now we’ve got to see that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is going to be dealing with this so everyone is going to be on an equal playing field when we do come back and at the moment I think it is most important to focus on other things. We as athletes can’t actually do our jobs at the moment. We can’t go out and perform and train and do anything we love to do so I think in that respect you’ve got to look at the things you can do and focus mainly on them.”
After the closure of the British team’s training base at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield last month Wilson returned home to Minster in Kent and has been making the most of the rare opportunity to spend time with his family.
“This is where I grew up and I haven’t spent as much time here since I was around 12 years old,” he said, “so it’s really nice to be back and good to be with people you want to take care of and make sure they are ok at this time. It is nice to spend time with everyone, especially when the weather has been so nice. You can go out in the back garden and relax a little bit and it gives you a chance to be grateful for what you do have.
“My grandparents live just up the road and they went into isolation quite early so a lot of the family are helping them and doing things that need doing – such as shopping or chores out in the garden they can’t do – so just trying to help them out in any way we can really. My mum and sister are both working from home and mum’s partner Trevor has been painting the house and I’ve been trying to help out and also stay fit and just keep on top of things physically and mentally. We live next to the beach so it is nice to be able to do my daily run in an environment like that and get some fresh air but you can’t help but look at who isn’t able to do that and seeing what you can do to help them.”
While table tennis has taken a back seat Wilson remains positive and focused on improving other aspects of his game to make sure he is ready to return to training whenever that may be.
“Our team strength and conditioning coach Adela has sent us through some exercises to work on at home and I have managed to order a yoga mat and skipping rope online. I’m doing a lot of mobility work and doing some things to strengthen my lower back because I’ve had quite a lot of problems with that over the years. I’m just trying to stay on top of those things and making sure I keep them in my daily routine.
“I enjoy a change of environment to be honest so I don’t mind too much that I can’t train but I do miss being in a sport environment. I’ve actually taught myself how to enjoy being uncomfortable now and that is something I do miss – being under the pressure of playing a match or training in a harder scenario – that is what I am really missing at the moment. But there are worse things going on in the world and you can only focus on what you can do.
“Nothing I can do is going to change what date we come back into training so at the moment it is just focusing on what I can do to keep on top of things so I can get back into things easily when we do get back into training, such as fitness and mental preparation. It is a good opportunity for everyone in the team to sit back and think about what we want to achieve and put even better plans into place for next year.”