Athletics: Nothing defeats the vigour of Braye

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The Independent Online
EVERY disabled athlete has had a formidable series of obstacles to overcome to get where they are, but when Stuart Braye started sprinting in 1987, he thought he would be running at the Seoul Paralympics the very next year, writes Chris Maume.

Braye had been successful in amputee powerlifting, reaching 115kg in the bench press, and thought he could make the transition easily: 'I thought, 'I've always been into sport, this will take a couple of weeks'.'

There was no chance of that, although he can now expect medals in all his events, the 100 metres, 200m and 400m in the below-knee single-leg amputee category.

Recent research in the United States suggests that the oxygen requirement for a below-knee amputee is 50 per cent more than normal. 'You can do everything anybody else does,' Braye said, 'it's just like doing it carrying two bags of shopping all the time. It's like going Christmas shopping every day. You just want to sit down, put your feet up, have a cup of tea and switch off.'

Far from switching off, Braye has combined his sport with his work as regional development officer in the North-east for the British Sports Association for the Disabled, raising awareness in leisure centres and schools, becoming a role model for disabled and able-bodied children alike. 'I'm like a Butlin's redcoat - one minute discussing budgets with the Sports Council, the next chatting to kids in schools.'

Braye has different legs for different purposes - one for playing with his children in the garden, one for jogging, one for sprint training, and so on. His competition leg is the Rolls Royce of prostheses, the Flexfoot from the United States, costing around dollars 11,000 (pounds 5,500). He recently spent three months in New York learning all he could about alignments, vitally important to have a chance of gold in Barcelona.

Now 34, Braye spent six years in the army, serving in West Germany (where he knew Kriss Akabusi) and Northern Ireland, and coming first in the Battle Fitness Test. He bought himself out and became a lorry driver, until the day he had an accident. He set himself up in the joinery business, but gave that up to pursue his athletics career with the single-mindedness he applies to every activity in his life.

He does not intend this to be his last Paralympics: 'I might play with the pentathlon next season and see what happens. I've never done shot, discus or long jump, but I have done a lot of weight training.' A tall order, it would seem. But do not bet against Braye being in contention in Atlanta in four years' time.