When Nathan Maguire thinks back to his journey to a Paralympic silver medal, he cites one influential figure in his life.
“My Dad, it was all my Dad.”
Maguire’s story is an inspirational one. Becoming paralysed aged eight overnight, to Paralympic success, the Salfordian speaks with excitement and positivity regarding his career to date, and thanks his Dad for his influence on his journey into para-sport.
“He’s always been quite a driving force behind my sport and finding me different things to try. My Dad just googled it, Manchester Mavericks, wheelchair basketball team. They trained in the Castlefield hotel in Manchester, and we emailed my coach and said could I come along, and she was more than welcoming.
“At eight years old, I went to bed and I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. I had pins and needles in my feet, they moved up and up and up slowly, and stopped, mid-chest. Wherever the pins and needles were I couldn’t feel. So I can’t feel anything from there, down.
“I’ve done sport my whole life. My parents have been sporty since I was born really, and I was kind of brought up with a ball in my hand, or running or something like that.
Maguire spoke about the enormity of this situation, and the potential for it to hamper his sporting abilities, but his parents wouldn’t let that happen.
“When that happens, it can be the end of your life. But my parents saw it as, right, this is how he is now, we need to get him to learn everything again. Running around, he’s now sat down.
“I was discharged from hospital on Christmas Eve, and by the 5th of January, I was playing wheelchair basketball. My parents saw that as a kind of rehabilitation.
“I didn’t know anyone with a disability, let alone people my age with a disability. So sport was a way of me finding myself and learning from other people about how my disability is going to affect me and actually looking forward and looking at people who’ve had their disability for years and years and actually yeah, he’s going to be alright”.
Maguire went a long way in Wheelchair basketball, but fell in love with racing: “I was lucky enough to play for Great Britain’s U25s, I got quite far with basketball and then racing came along as well.
“My Dad always got me to try as many different sports, so everything that was available to me I tried. I’ve tried rowing, I’ve tried swimming, I’ve tried Wheelchair tennis, Wheelchair rugby, Wheelchair basketball, like literally everything that we could find to try to, just to try and find my niche.
“Wheelchair racing came along when I was 15 years old. I was always one of the quickest people, if not the quickest people on the court when I was playing basketball, so my Dad just thought, let’s try it. I went down to my local club in Kirby in Liverpool, that’s the nearest wheelchair racing club to where we live.
“I’ve never looked back really. I love it. I love the fact that, you know, in a team sport like basketball, you’ve got other people to rely on. As well, if, if they’re not having the best day, then your team is not having the best day.
“Whereas with racing, it’s all about you. As soon as you get on that start line, if you don’t have a good day, then you’re not going to have a good day. If you don’t have a good day, then you’re not going to have an awesome race”.
The passion Maguire has for his sport is evident, you can feel the drive and passion as he speaks on the subject.
“The T54 category is basically anybody that has a lower limb disability that you have partial to full core. So it’s quite a broad category. It can go from someone who’s a double amputee, who’s got full core or someone like me who is a paraplegic with partial core. But I love my class, it’s so competitive. There’s so many people that we’ve got to race against because it’s such a broad class. We fit in so many athletes, and yeah it is awesome. I’m probably possibly one of the lower ends of the class, because my disability compared to the double amputees or for the people with other disabilities. I don’t let it stop me and I don’t kind of let it get in my head. We’re all the same class and we’re all on the start line together when it’s fastest over the finish wins”.
The Olympics and Paralympics both were postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, leaving the pending competitors in limbo. Maguire however spun the news into a positive: “You count down to it for four years and then to have it kind of snatched away from you, it’s tough. Actually, we found out it was postponed halfway through a gym session. So it’s almost like, ‘why are we doing this now?’ Why are we doing this session? Do we need to finish it? Because we’ve got another year.”
It was not only Maguire that was affected by the news in his household, but also his girlfriend and fellow Paralympian, Hannah Cockroft.
“We kind of took it as like me and my girlfriend, both wheelchair racers, took it as, right, from now, we’re going to try even harder so that when it comes, we’ll be a year faster and a year fitter. But obviously it’s tough to stay motivated because of the games being postponed and stuff, it’s tough.
“But yeah, we just took it as trying to get faster. Coming into it this year as well with all the lockdowns and stuff, it’s been really difficult trying to get on track. In the last 18 months, I would normally train on the track twice a week, maybe even three times a week.I missed it for like eight months, didn’t go on a track at all, it was all on rollers.
“We were really lucky that we’d moved into a house in 2019, so we had somewhere to base our training. We got a gym in our garage, so that really helped. We’ve searched everywhere around the local area, trying to find places that we can train, and different road routes, roads we didn’t even know existed!”.
The pair didn’t stop there in their resourceful preparations for the Games, even taking into account the Japanese climate:
“We had a greenhouse and a heater! So that was an idea of replicating the humidity and heat of Tokyo. I think it worked really well. It’s something that we’ll probably add in the future as well, to continue going into games like this one”.
The time came for Maguire and his partner Cockroft to travel to Tokyo for the Games, Maguire’s first, and one he will never forget. A silver for the Salfordian, an achievement he puts down to the team: “Oh, you know, to do it as part of a team as well. I was really looking to be part of the relay team, the British team, it is a great event.
Can’t believe we’re Paralympic silver medalists!🥈
I love my relay team so much, can’t believe we won a silver medal in the 4x100m universal relay in a British and European record!
Tokyo has been the best experience of my life and to win my first Paralympic medal is incredible pic.twitter.com/qakEMCBdVC
— nathan maguire (@nathanmaguire2) September 4, 2021
“You know, you go in doing your individual events and it’s, and it’s an individual sport, for me coming from basketball. I love the team aspect as well. So to share the podium with three of them or four of us, because we had a guide for them as well for the people, you know, it’s even more exciting.
“Um, yeah, I love the relay. It’s such an exciting event. Um, and as well as the new event that we had, it was the first time we’d ever run it at this Paralympics”.
Tokyo 2020 (2021) capped a memorable season for Maguire, barring an impromptu entry into the Manchester 10K, which he entered two days before the event:
“I popped down to train and to speak to some of the lads, last Thursday, just before Manchester 10K. I found out they were doing it and I got too excited. I love a race, any opportunity to race people. So I found out that they were doing it. I was like, I’ll see what I can do.
“Friday I entered and then raced on Sunday. So it was a very late entry, a little bit silly. I did it with no training. On the Saturday before the Sunday I did a 10K just to check I could get through it, and I could, so I was really lucky that I was able to do that and that they allowed me to get in as well.
It was really exciting to push through to Manchester streets and to have the local support is, you know, it’s great”.
Despite this season just finishing, Maguire is already looking ahead to the next season with optimism:
“So we’ve got the Commonwealth games in Birmingham, which is going to be really exciting because we’re gonna have a home crowd. To have it on home soil is going to be even more exciting because my whole family I’ll be able to come and watch, I’ll have crowds screaming my name, it’s going to be so exciting.
“Then, a few weeks later we’ve got the world championships back in Japan. So yeah, it’s all hands on deck really”.
With Maguire experiencing numerous successes to date in his career, what is his favourite so far?
“The silver medal I won at the Paralympics this year. It’s the biggest medal I have ever got. I’ve always had this kind of like superstition that I would never touch a Paralympics medal until I touched my own.
“This year was the first time I have ever touched a Paralympic medal, they put it around my neck and it’s so heavy and I just, I love it. I take it everywhere with me. I don’t want to put it down. Well, I’ve won that now. We’re on to the Commonwealth games next year, and then as well as Paris in three years, so hopefully I can add to my medal tally over the next few years”.
To finish off, I asked Maguire what his advice would be for anyone in Salford with a disability who wants to get into sport. Here is what the Paralympian had to say:
“Around Manchester and Salford there’s so much sport available here. I would say, just try everything you can get your hands on. There’s so many different clubs and different organisations that help you get into sport, but just try everything you get your hands on because that’s what I did. I tried so many different sports before I found my niche.
“The beauty of disability sport is that there’s so much out there that you can try, and then you specialise, actually you never have to specialise if you just want to participate for your whole life, that’s just as important as me winning meals. I would just say try everything and I’d enjoy it because that’s what sport is about, if I didn’t enjoy my sport, I wouldn’t do it.
“I love sport and I think that everybody can love sport as much as I do if they just try it and give it a go, especially any person with a disability. In a way it’s more important for someone with a disability to do sport because as a community we are ostracised, we are kind of pushed back by so much in society and actually sport opens so many more doors for you, so I think sport is definitely a driving force for something that you can definitely get involved in and actually feel like you belong”.