Sehmi: Wheelchair rugby saved my life when I was at an all-time low
00:51 GMT, 5 April 2012
UK Sport chair Baroness Sue Campbell recently asserted in a Sportsmail interview that sport can change people’s lives, with particular regard to what has been dubbed our ‘corrosive youth culture’.
But to go further than that, anybody can find their life transformed by sport, no matter their circumstance.
At face value this is a far-reaching statement, but one of which the impact is not fully realised unless the point is illustrated. Meet Mandip Sehmi, Team GB Paralympic rugby athlete.
Eye on the ball: Mandip Sehmi is going for wheelchair rugby gold in London
Sehmi suffered a spinal cord injury in 2000 after a car crash. He was just 19 years old. The incident left him paralysed from the chest down.
Now he represents his country at an elite level, something most can only dream of.
‘I grew stronger in myself through sport. I became more independent and could do more everyday living,’ said Sehmi. ‘In 2002 I got to go on a world tour – I went round the world and played wheelchair rugby. It spurred everything on really.
‘The opportunities I get through the sport [are amazing]. From breaking your neck, then two years down the line your life’s been totally changed. You get to meet a lot of good people through it and your general health just goes through the roof.’
It took meeting a good person to get Sehmi on the road to where he is now. At the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he encountered Bob O’Shea, former captain of Team GB’s Paralympic rugby side, preparing for the Sydney Olympics.
‘He used to run a small mocked up version of the game in the hospital,’ explained Sehmi. ‘Of all the activities they have you doing after your first have your injury, it’s one of the ones I enjoyed the most.
‘Bob gave me the number of my local team and said if you’re interested, get involved. I went and finished my uni course off and one day after that I came across this number and remembered wheelchair rugby. I eventually started to go, and started to enjoy it.’
And like that, Sehmi’s life was transformed. /04/05/article-2125372-125B9863000005DC-322_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”Better together: Steve Brown and his Team GB train at Stoke Mandeville Stadium” class=”blkBorder” />
Better together: Steve Brown and his Team GB train at Stoke Mandeville Stadium
But despite the pride he takes from the Beijing Games, there is a sense of unfinished business as Great Britain finished fourth – just off the podium.
‘It’s the worst place to finish,’ insists Sehmi. ‘Ask any athlete, it’s the worst place to finish in an event. You miss out on a medal and it’s heartbreaking at the time. But it makes you want to train harder and come back better.’
And where better to launch another assault at gold than on home soil The London 2012 Games are never far from Sehmi’s thoughts. With the amount of preparation, training and sheer hard work that goes into ensuring Britain has a shot at gold, they cannot be.
‘An opportunity like this doesn’t come round every day. Once in our lifetime we’re going to have a home Games. It’s so hard to put it out of your mind. It’s everywhere. The media, conversations with your friends and your family. It’s really exciting,’ said Sehmi.
Get me one of those: Sehmi
‘We still have to go through squad selection so a place is not guaranteed. Every athlete is keeping their head down and working hard. At Paralympic level you have 12 athletes in the squad.
‘We’re down to 11, it’s been whittled down. The coach won’t take any players that are not good enough. You have earn that place and when you get it, it’s a privilege.
‘We’re on the athletics track, in the gym, working on the court. And then we have sessions to analyse tactics. Everything you can imagine and more. Six days a week. Normally with one day off, on Sunday or Saturday. It’s easier to lose fitness than it is to build it up.
The gruelling fitness regime is part and parcel of the position as an elite athlete. People sometimes dismiss Paralympic sports as ‘past-times’ rather than lifestyles, but they could not be further from the truth.
Sehmi, a Liverpool fan, admits he does not get to see his beloved Reds very often, because he is so tied up in training. But being a Paralympic athlete means you must sacrifice more than just your devotion to a football club.
‘I barely get to see family and friends, but it’s part of the commitment of what I do,’ he said. ‘It’s something you choose to do, because not everyone gets the opportunity to do this. You want to give yourself the best possible chance. There’s a medal in sight.
‘I can’t remember the last time I had a drink! It’s all about priorities. There’s gonna be plenty of time for me to go partying and drinking after London, but right now I’ve only got one goal, and that’s to win gold.
‘I don’t think we’ll ever get this opportunity again, it’s just too big to miss. I know my team-mates are working as hard as I am, if you’re not working you’re letting them down.’
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The US and Australia are the favourites for gold at the Games, but Sehmi knows that with wheelchair rugby’s fast-flowing nature, upsets are easily caused.
‘The way this game is, anybody in the world can beat anybody,’ he said. ‘It’s so fast, it’s so hard hitting, there’s so many turnovers in the game. There’ll be a favourite but on the day anything can happen. It’s so exciting to watch because of that element of uncertainty.
‘We’re a nation that love team sports like football and rugby, and this is the closest Paralympic sports comes to it.’
Sehmi is keen for others to follow in his wake and as a Cadbury ambassador is delighted the company are contributing towards the Paralympic Potential days, which encourage people with impairments to see if they have what it takes to compete for their country.
‘It’s great to see such a huge effort to increase our chances of medalling in future games. It’s all about finding new talent in the next generation,’ he said.
‘Elite athletes will integrate with new talent. You get the opportunity to meet them and find out about new sports.’
And with some luck – and yet more persistence, drive and determination, they too could follow Sehmi’s path towards the world’s biggest stage. And that is how sport can change lives.
Cadbury athlete ambassador Mandip Sehmi (@mandipsehmi) is helping Cadbury in its support for Paralympic Potential days, where athletes can try out Paralympic sports to see if they have the potential and ability to become one of GB’s future stars.