JohnBoy Smith makes history as the first ever Romany Paralympian
On Monday 19th July at 8.15pm Marathon Wheelchair racer JohnBoy Smith got the news he’s been waiting five long years to receive - which was selection to represent Britain as part of the Team GB Paralympics team, heading to Japan for the Tokyo Summer Paralympics 2021. The TT caught caught up with him to see how he was feeling.
"As you can imagine I'm on top of the world," said JohnBoy. "This has been a long long wait. I trained for Rio in 2016 but wasn't selected and then last year obviously its was cancelled so it's been five years plus to get this far. I could hardly bear it the night before, I had to go bed and then lie there thinking about it all night and then they didn't call me until 8.00pm the following day! Clearly it was great news though so all good," JohnBoy laughs. "And then we couldn't make an official announcement until 11.30am on Weds 21st, Travellers Times were the first media I contacted, you've always been very supportive and it's media I understand and trust."
As a world class athlete you have to make a lot of sacrifices, commit to training, healthy living and sometimes long periods away from home and family, says JohnBoy. "People sometimes can't understand why you have to miss a party or leave a wedding early and not drink so that you can get up super early and drive two hours to training, but getting selected makes it all worth it. The worst bit is being away from my family to be honest, my wife Kerri is amazing, she's stronger than me - I'm the one crying and she's the one left behind with two-year old twin girls! She's my manager, my wife and my best friend and she's seen my highs and my lows and always supports me, I'm a very lucky man."
However during this last 18 months JohnBoy was able to train at home on an indoor roller and in the leafy lanes of Kent where he lives. “During all the lockdowns and restrictions I’ve been able to fully concentrate on training and be with my family and I am probably at my top physical form; but that does also mean that my competitors might be too!” he said. From the UK David Weir, his mentor and former training partner, is JohnBoy’s main ‘rival’ – JohnBoy currently holds the fastest time for a race last month in the USA but he hasn’t competed against David for 2 years so who knows – but when asked who his main competition is internationally JohnBoy says: “Everyone, if you got as far as being selected then you are a top athlete in your field and I never under estimate anyone.”
In order to prepare for Tokyo, as well as the training and diet, JohnBoy has been going to bed at 7.00pm and getting up at 4.15am to try and minimise the effects of jet-lag from the time difference. “I creep around at 4.00am trying not to wake my girls up – no one needs them up and on the go at that time in the morning!”
It’s been well documented recently that racism in sport is still rife, and no less so for JohnBoy who has heard a fellow sportsmen say “I don’t care if I win I just wanna beat the p**y,” all under the guise of ‘banter’. “I don’t let it get to me to be honest” said JohnBoy “I am so proud to be taking the Romani flag with me to Tokyo and I don’t care who knows it, it’s that thing of being British when you’re doing well and a Gypsy when you make mistake, just like the European cup boys. I was lucky not to really see that much racism growing up, but what I see now in sport it saddens me, but, I've just got to keep going and be proud of where you come from.”
“If could thank everyone whose helped me on the way I’d be here all day to be honest, but I would like to give special mentions to my wife, Kerri, for everything; to my training partners; to Cyclopark for their training spaces, to my rehab therapist Cheryl Morton who got me through my latest shoulder injury in April which might have meant I couldn’t get to Tokyo; my coach Chris Parloe and the Pastors at the Light & Light Church who organised a big sponsored walk and raised enough money to buy me a new, light racing wheelchair which has been a deal-breaker in raising my game,” said JohnBoy
Team GB leave for Tokyo on 17th August and the wheelchair marathon race is on Sept 5th – we’ll be following the journey and backing JBS all the way!!!
VIDEO: Watch our interview with JohnBoy HERE: