“The Sky is the Limit” – An Interview with 19-year-old Tom Smith Setting His Sights High On Para Powerlifting.
To continue our celebration of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we spoke to Huntingdon’s 19-year-old superstar Paralympian, Tom Smith, who has his eyes firmly set on next years Commonwealth Games and the 2024 Paralympics.
We were eager to find out more about Tom, including his life outside of powerlifting and how he got on at this year’s Para Powerlifting World Cup.
Hi Tom, we’re delighted to feature you in our magazine. To begin, can you tell us a little bit about growing up with achondroplasia and when you were diagnosed?
“When I was born, I was a very floppy and heavy baby weighing 8.10lbs at birth. At 6 weeks old I had a blood test at the hospital to identify the disability I had. It wasn’t until 11 weeks after the results came back that I had achondroplasia which is the most common form of dwarfism. It was at this point that I became very emotional for my parents to take and receive this news due to the uncertainty and changes that may have had to be put in place to help me grow up. Due to my condition, I have had several operational procedures such as leg straightening, tonsils and adenoids removed at a young age and many other surgeries. At the time when my parents found out I had achondroplasia, they were very emotional but were pleased that the disability had been identified, and research could be done. I have had alterations done at home to help with my disability such as smaller steps installed in the front garden, a downstairs wet room for me to shower and wash myself in as well as lower shelves and cupboards for me to access.”
So how did you first discover your passion for powerlifting?
“In 2018, due to my condition, I had to undergo a major piece of leg surgery where the hospital realigned the tibia and fibula bone in my lower legs. Due to this surgery, I was in a wheelchair and not able to bear weight for 6 weeks. It was at this time of my recovery where I was very restricted to what I was able to do, that I discovered my passion for fitness and weight training. In June 2018, six months after my operation, I joined my first local gym. I was extremely looking forward to being active again and participating in physical activity. I was going to the gym 5 – 6 times a week and was focusing a lot of my workout and exercises around the rehabilitation of my surgery. After a year’s training in the local gym, I attended my first powerlifting competition at the Dwarf Sports Association National Games. At this event, where several British weightlifting coaches were helping to officiate and coach the competition, I won the gold medal in my weight category. It was at the end of this competition that the coaches took me to one side to ask a little bit about myself and introduce the British Weightlifting Paralympic Powerlifting Programme which allowed me to gain an insight into what it consisted of. The following month I attended an introduction training camp at Loughborough University where I was introduced to more of the team and it was at this training camp where I joined the team and started my journey on the British Weightlifting Pathway.”
Earlier this year, you participated in the Para Powerlifting World Cup in Manchester, how did you get on?
So, I competed in the Men’s under 54kg category against athletes from around the world aiming to solidify their rankings to attend the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
At the event, I won Gold with three successful lifts at 115kg, 120kg and 125kg. It was an absolute dream come true for me to be on top of the podium at a world event with the national anthem playing after being presented my gold medal, it provoked a lot of emotion and is a memory I will cherish forever.
Congratulations on the gold medal; how do you keep your motivation levels high?
“The world-class and elite coaching I receive is an area in my training that always keeps me motivated. For me, this consists of phone calls and video calls with coaches on a day-to-day basis to check in with them. As well as this, the high-end training programmes I receive improve and increase my performance. I also love a motivational quote. A quote for me is something which I refer to daily and explore the true meaning and point that the quote is making.”
“The most motivating part of my sport for me is the idea of representing Team Great Britain at a Paralympic Games and becoming a Paralympic Gold Medalist.”
What would it mean to you if you were to win a Paralympic medal?
“It would mean the absolute world to me, especially with the uncertainty of the operation and being told I may not be able to walk again. I feel as if I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now without the surgery and it was at the time of my recovery and rehabilitation that this whole passion for weight training and fitness began.”
Outside of powerlifting, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
“In my spare time, I work as a Sports and Fitness Assistant at Cambridge University Sports Centre. I find this is a great part-time job for me as I can use my powerlifting knowledge and skills in my role at work, as well as information I learn from work from other members of staff but also members of the gym who like myself have a big passion for their fitness and being able to share experiences to better each others knowledge and understanding. As well as this I also love going Fishing, with the stress and demand of training, I find that going fishing is a great way for me to relax and take a step back from training. A close friend and I go regularly and I feel as if it is a great relaxation activity to do alongside my training.”
One more question for you, what advice would you give to the readers who are looking to achieve their full potential?
“My advice to someone would be to try new things out in life and even those that you wouldn’t normally associate yourself with to discover new interests or hobbies. My second piece of advice is to set regular targets that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related (SMART Targets), and by doing this you set a range of long and short term goals that can be monitored and updated regularly. For me, I don’t like to set specific goals such as what I would like to achieve. Instead, I use the phrase “The Sky is the Limit”. By doing this it means that no matter what I achieve, I will also look to the next step and not settle for what I have already accomplished”
A huge thank you to Tom for taking the time to answer a few questions for What’s The Buzz? Magazine. We wish him the best of luck in the future.