7 March 2016Losing my leg affected my mum far more than me
There is so much exuberance in Jonnie Peacock, with the Paralympics starting exactly six months from Monday, it is easy to be swept along when the young British sprinter describes his animated quest to match hisgold medal at London 2012 with another stunning victory in Rio. “I can hardly believe it’s just six months to go,” Peacock says, “but I know my goal. I want to be a double Paralympian world champion.”
Yet it is almost a shock when the sprinter voices a wider context to his sparkling ambition on two separate occasions. The first moment comes when Peacock discusses the blisters that often form on the stump of his right leg and he suggests that a loose socket on his prosthetic limb has caused the problem. A second reason to pause occurs when Peacock says that, at 22, he is finally old enough to understand the trauma his mother endured when he was a little boy.
At the age of five, Peacock was so ill with meningitis that he slid away into an induced coma as the disease attacked his brain and the tissues in his leg. His mother, Linda, was told his right leg would have to be amputated just below the knee. She was advised to say goodbye for there was a strong chance her son would die.
“I can now reflect on what she went through – hugely,” Peacock says. “I think it affected her far more than me. Of course I’m the one walking around with one leg but I have an OK life. But it was very hard for her to be told I was probably going to die and that if I came back there could be lots of brain damage … which there is!”
Peacock laughs and winks. “Luckily, everything went well but she was in shock. After London 2012 my mum could finally let it all out. She knew I was going to be all right after all.”
Every athlete preparing for this year’s Olympics or Paralympics is likely to suffer from aches and twinges. But Peacock offers graphic insight into the more basic issues that can impair a Paralympian’s progress.
“I’ve had a blade problem,” he says as he assesses his spate of injuries. “I changed my blade in 2013 and six months ago I didn’t realise how bad the socket had become. It was like I was sinking right into the bottom of the socket. I just assumed this was how it was meant to be. But then I put the new one on and it was tight. It was such a huge difference. This was part of the reason I was getting so many blisters on the stump.
“My prosthetist said: ‘Basically it looked like you were running into a hole after every step.’ I’ve also had problems with my day leg [the prosthetic limb he uses when walking around] and had these abscesses. It’s like cutting a golf ball in half and these hard, horrible things stick out. Last year I had the prosthetist cut a huge hole out of the socket to give me some room when I trained.”
Peacock shrugs. “Every amputee has problems. I remember seeing the blisters that Oscar [Pistorius] would get. People push themselves to the limit and it’s not how the body is meant to be. You deal with it as best you can.”
The Paralympic 100m champion moves on swiftly to relish his gladiatorial rivalry with America’s Richard Browne and Brazil’s Alan Oliveira. “I’m definitely one of those athletes that the bigger the event the better I perform. I went to a low-key competition in Bedford and had zero nerves. That can be a hindrance because you need adrenalin pumping through you. I love the hustle and bustle of the warmup area – I love that gladiator feel. Certain people like to play the mind games, and I love it.”
Peacock grins cheekily when I say that Browne seems to be a cocky athlete. “You think! It’s bravado. You try not to take it too personally. The first time I got it was after London 2012 and [Browne’s] brother was sending it on Twitter. I was thinking: ‘What’s going on?’ But I’m used to it now. He’s running very well and he likes the chat. I suppose I don’t like to back down. I’m not going to take someone throwing a bunch of faeces at me. But I stay reasonable.”
The Peacock chuckle erupts again before he becomes more serious about Browne – the current world champion who won silver at the London Paralympics before going on a long unbeaten run from 2013 to 2015. “I beat him last year in Newcastle. He stumbled out of the blocks a little but I won. All I read from him on Twitter beforehand was: ‘Undefeated, undefeated, undefeated …’ I said to my girlfriend all I cared about was taking away the undefeated tag. But he went to the worlds in Doha and ran very well.”
Peacock had to withdraw from the world championships in Doha last year because of his blistered stump. Browne responded by saying that the Briton was“the least of my problems”. The Olympic champion leans forward in surprise. “That’s what he said? That’s funny because I was the first guy to beat him in two years. Look, all these guys are fast. Alan Oliveira has run 10.5. Richard has run 10.6. Felix Streng, the German kid, will do some stuff. Jarryd Wallace [from the US] too. Arnu Fourie [the South African who won bronze at London] ran 10.9 in the worlds. Six people could go under 11 seconds in Rio.”