For Ali Jawad, 22, from Tottenham, the dream of taking home a gold medal began when he was six years old. As he watched the World's Strongest Man on TV with his dad, he decided he would one day compete internationally in the sport he loved.
Now, training on a bench built to accommodate the fact that both his legs have been amputated, Jawad has just one year to realise his ambition: to qualify, compete, and win at powerlifting in the London Paralympics.
The Olympics might have received five times the investment and the majority of media scrutiny so far, but 150 British athletes, including Jawad, have spent the past two weeks undergoing intensive training at the Paralympics simulation camp at the University of Bath. It was here, on Friday, that organisers announced the full schedule and ticket prices for next year's competition, which opens a year on Monday.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will see more than 4,000 disabled athletes battle it out across 20 sports, including wheelchair basketball, swimming and adaptive rowing, over 11 days. Jawad is consuming exactly the same food and drink, wheeling over the same refitted floors and sleeping in the same sort of accommodation at the camp that a Paralympic contender will experience in the village next year.
"Not many people could handle the sort of training that I do, in terms of both the intensity and volume, it is hard. I train twice a day, four times a week," said Jawad, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease after he returned from the Beijing Paralympics three years ago. With fatigue, joint aches and an inability to absorb nutrients, Jawad sticks to a "disgusting" diet free of wheat, gluten and dairy products, to stay healthy for the qualifiers later this year.
Training with his four team mates – including British No 1 Adam Alderman, a 28-year-old dwarf, and Natalie Blake, also 28, and ranked fourth in the world, who has spina bifida – Jawad says the Paralympics do not always get the attention they deserve: "We are still considered the second game."
With £48m of UK Sport funding, compared with just over £29m for the Beijing Games, Paralympics organisers want their events to "step out of the shadow" of the Olympics before the largest ever team of disabled British athletes – about 300 – compete in London.
"We have not been shown in our full glory in the past," said Penny Briscoe, the Paralympics GB performance director. "We need to educate the general public about Paralympic sport and raise the profile of athletes."
South African amputee Oscar Pistorius will raise the Paralympians' profile today when he makes history lining up against the best able-bodied 400-metre runners at the World Championship heats in South Korea.
In Beijing in 2008, the British Paralympics team brought home 102 medals, more than double the number won in the Olympics. Finishing second behind hosts China, they raised interest in the Paralympics to levels previously unknown.
Ellie Simmonds, 16, from Birmingham, was the youngest athlete to compete in the Beijing Paralympics, winning two gold medals in swimming. She said: "The Paralympics are catching up to the Games, as it should; we all train as hard as the able-bodied. I think people with disabilities can look up to us, realise they can get into sports, and really achieve something."
For Jawad, who is taking a gap year from studying Sports Science at the University of East London, the competition cannot come soon enough. "The stadium is 10 minutes away from me and sometimes when I drive by I nearly crash for daydreaming," he says. "It is an opportunity of a lifetime."Reuse content