On this date last year, (30 August 2012), in his second Paralympic Games appearance, British Judo’s Ben Quilter succeeded in winning bronze for ParalympicsGB. Quilter, a VI (Visually Impaired) athlete, is a London 2012 Paralympic bronze medallist and a Paralympian from Beijing as well as a Judo double World and a European Champion.
Here, one year on to the exact date of his win against Takaaki Hirai in the under-60kg judo at the ExCeL, despite suffering an injury to his knee in training just seven weeks before the Games, Quilter speaks to Donna Richardson about his feelings on winning his bronze medal.
What a difference a year can make – in that time he has got married to his partner Francesca, had a baby and finished his Msc degree in sport and exercise physiology!
So, almost one year on, how does it feel to be a Paralympic Medallist?
There has never been a better time to be a Paralympian. I feel very proud! London 2012 was a completely different experience to Beijing, one I will never forget.
Looking back what are your lasting memories of that day?
It was one of the longest days of my life.
I went through a real roller coaster of emotions. My one lasting memory has to be winning the bronze medal fight.
Describe the last year and the opportunities/challenges it has brought?
I am lucky to have had a lot of great opportunities since the Games, such as attending the BBC Sports Personality Awards, a free ticket to watch my local team Brighton & Hove Albion, invites to loads of great commemorative events and the opportunity to visit schools companies and charities to speak about my experiences and my sight loss.
There are too many things to mention really but it is an honour to have had these opportunities.
Do you get recognised a lot in the street?
No not really, I have been recognised once or twice but I am not mobbed or anything like that! I hear you re-visited the Olympic stadium for the Anniversary Games and did some medal presenting, tell me more about this and how did it feel going back?
It was incredible to re-visit the Olympic Park as it triggered so many awesome memories of the Games.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to present medals in front of such a great crowd at this amazing event.
Just going back to the stadium with other Paralympians was a reminder of how amazing the 2012 experience was for me.
How has your Paralympic success changed you, or brought opportunities?
I wouldn’t say I have changed as a person from winning a Paralympic medal and life is not a great deal different. Some great opportunities have come from the success and I try and make the most of them all.
Tell me a bit about your condition, and what does it mean to you being a VI player?
I started Judo at the age of seven and at that point of my life I was the same as all of the other little bundles of fun having a go at the sport. It was not until I reached the age of 10 when I was diagnosed with a rare genetic sight condition called Stargardts disease. The condition left me with a slow degenerative sight loss that affects the macular between the ages of 10-25. I am now left with no central vision and can only see peripherally. I have been a part of the VI squad for over 15 years and it has been a huge part of my life and something I am extremely proud of.
Who is your role model and how do you keep inspired?
I don’t really have a role model. Lots of coaches and fellow athletes have helped me and inspired me throughout each stage of my career and I remain inspired by my desire to constantly be the best judo player I can be.
Since the Games you got married, tell me about the wedding?
The Wedding day was perfect and couldn’t have worked out any better! We tied the knot at Coltsford Mill in Oxted and it was a truly memorable day. You have recently become a father too, how are you adapting to fatherhood? Being a dad is the most incredible feeling, so rewarding and worth every minute of lost sleep. I think it is like anything, the harder you work at it the easier it is. Francesca is great and we work together which makes it easy. Reggie is a happy little boy and I think a budding Judoka in the making!
You also contended with some injuries and ops? How is your rehab going and when will you be back on the mat?
The rehab has been slow but positive, there was cartilage damage which we did not know about, so I had stitches in the Meniscus as well as a ACL reconstruction and an MCL repair. I am now back on the mat but still in a light judo phase, I hope to be back doing randori soon. What inspires you when training? To be my best at every competition I compete in.
Describe a typical life in the day?
Breakfast followed by light judo and physio/rehab. Home for lunch and a quick walk for Tyrone my British Bulldog… a bit of time chatting to Reggie if he is awake! Normally a nappy change for Reggie… lunch then training in the afternoon, at the moment that would consist of a run or weights or more rehab! Then it is dinner time, a bath for Reggie and then a bit of time chilling with Francesca or writing my dissertation.
You have been studying sport and exercise physiology at university, how have you found the course and what do you want to do after your athletic career?
My education always gave me a balance when I was preparing for a major competition. Allowing for a welcome distraction to take my mind off what it was I was doing day in and day out.
The staff at Chichester University were always very supportive and understanding of the demands of the sport so it always worked out well. I have really enjoyed my studies and I think they have helped with my career and the understanding of my training etc. I am unsure what I will pursue after judo, I will have to see what is out there at the time, I obviously have a passion for elite sport but also for public health and childhood obesity.
How do you balance being a father, elite athlete and a student?
Luckily my studies are coming to an end and I only have my dissertation to finish writing up and hand in, so I just have Judo and being a father to juggle and that is not too bad.
The hardest thing will be when I am fit and have to go away and leave my new family for a week or more. I have a great wife though who understands what it takes to be a judo player so it makes my hectic life and busy schedule not too hard to manage.
Tell me about your charity work? You have just been selected as the ambassador for 4Sight?
That is correct, I am an ambassador for four visually impaired related charities who do amazing work to improve the lives of people with sight loss in the UK and internationally. I do whatever I can to help the work they are doing, by attending functions, speaking at events on their behalf, offering my support for campaigns and anything that I can fit in really.
If I can give back in anyway and do my bit to help improve the lives of people with a visual impairment then I will.
Lastly, do you have any advice for other VI athletes coming through the high performance system?
Always perform to the best of your ability, train hard and never make excuses.
To find out more about Ben Quilter visit: www.benquilter.co.uk
The Low Down
Major Results 2012 London Paralympic Games bronze 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games 5th 2011 IBSA World Games, Antalya, Turkey gold 2011 IBSA Judo European Championships, Crawley, UK gold 2010 IBSA Judo World Championships, Antalya, Turkey gold
Here is the link to how British Judo covered the story of that memorable day