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Athlete Focus | Dan Pembroke | 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (Part 2)

Athlete Focus | Dan Pembroke | 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (Part 2)

The second part of our interview with gold Paralympian Dan Pembroke is finally here!

In the next part of our chat, we delve further into Dan's story to find out how he got to where he is today. We spoke about what his winter training consists of, his preferred javelins, and how he managed to train during the lockdowns we've faced here in the UK.

Watch the second and final part of Dan's interview below. Alternatively, you can read the full transcript of the rest of our chat here too.

INTERVIEW WITH DAN PEMBROKE: TOKYO 2020 PARALYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST

DO YOU FIND IT'S MORE ABOUT TECHNIQUE NOW THAN IT WAS WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

I’m now working with Dave Turner who’s based up in Loughborough, and he’s a brilliant coach. He definitely knows his stuff so he has a lot of javelin drills that we go through.

Technical ability is higher up on the agenda than actual power. If you throw a technically great throw, you have less chance of getting injured. This week, it’s going to be full of lots of drills, and getting the body right so it’s constantly throwing well. And making that javelin fly out there!

With these drills, you also learn to hit the javelin through the point, as well. All the energy is going straight forwards and not deflecting through the javelin and hitting the wind, all sorts of things like that.

We’ve been to some throws festivals this summer, and you’re standing to the side of the track (like on the middle of the 100m straight) and you see the javelins flying out. It’s so obvious to see where you’ve got a javelin that beautifully follows through the point, and its tail is in its own shadow, if you will! And then you have some which come out and fly like this… and you’re like wow!

IS THERE A PARTICULAR TRICK? OR DRILL OR TECHNIQUE TO ACHIEVE THAT FLIGHT EVERYTIME? WHAT WOULD YOU WORK ON TO HIT IT THROUGH THE POINT?

I’m not a coach as such and I don’t have the technical ability to talk that through. But I would say keeping the point close to your head and making sure it’s not going up or to the side is very important. Also to keep your line of sight relatively low, which enables you to pop the javelin up when you come down from the plant.

I’d just say that tip really! I don’t really overthink it too much when I’m throwing. I think because of all of the drills and such that we do in training, these things become second nature and that’s the way these things should be done. I think drilling and certain exercises will help you do that and doing it over and over again, so your body doesn’t know what else to do except do those things that you’ve done in the drills.

Building up that muscle memory, so that you just relax into it when it comes to putting it altogether.

Exactly! And definitely as a young thrower (I started throwing when I was 11), we did a lot of drills then and I’m so glad I did then, and not emphasise too much on just competitions and making sure that I’m doing all the right possible things to be able to get a good technique from a young age. When you grow up with a good technique, you have less chance of getting injured… obviously I say that and then I got injured!

Didn’t go so well!

No! But it was just a few things that went wrong, and I’ve learnt my lesson now and like I said before using all of those physio exercises. I used to neglect them quite a bit, and I think that’s what led me to get my injuries.

That’s interesting. So even focusing on those physio exercises that that strength and conditioning right from the beginning of your javelin throwing is just crucially important. I was also interested to hear that your winter includes lots of long running and things, because maybe slightly less so with javelin than with the heavier throws, with throws we don’t generally think of throwers as running and that sort of general fitness. But of course, you need to! You need a really good level of general fitness to throw and it’s not just all about your arms…

We have that specific time... so now, I’m actually on a break. After competition season, I normally have 3-4 weeks of a break. And then, I’ll go straight into low weight exercises and high repetition, just to really condition the body. That works as a brilliant tool doing big functional exercises to all those small muscles I was telling you about. It gets them moving, and you’re doing things over and over again!

This is a quick way of conditioning the body and then you slowly go into heavier weights, lesser reps as the season goes on. Towards the spring, you’re then on maximum weight, with the full intent of lifting a big Olympic bar over your head. And this all recruits all of those muscles that you’ve been training from the start of the winter, to all fire together. So yeah that’s how we do it.

It’s going well, so that’s good!

Next year, it will be my first proper season off the back of a very good winter, I hope. I’ve got all the help from the National Lottery, they’re funding my sport at the moment so I’m not able to train full time, get the rest that I need and do all the training I want. So next year… we’re aiming for the big one!

So we’re going to see that world record next year, are we??

I hope so! If we do this interview again next year, hopefully we’ll be celebrating that WR!

It’s a date, we’ll get the champagne ready! So you threw an OTE competition javelin in Tokyo. OTE is not hugely well known in the UK, we’re more accustomed to names like Nordic and Nemeth amongst others…

WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT THE OTE JAVELIN? HOW DID YOU COME ACROSS IT?

The first thing that brought me to OTE was when I was 15-16 years of age, I was getting a bit of elbow trouble, before my big rupture in 2021. I wanted a javelin that was soft on the arm, but didn’t have too many vibrations. Like I said before, my dad is a professor now in javelin throwing and he looked on the Internet and researched many things, which led us to the OTE’s. 

They’re made in America by a guy called Dick Held. He makes some incredible javelins with low vibration, and what that vibration does in the air if you have a javelin that vibrates when it leaves your hand, is creating more airspace and friction through the air. 

As soon as the OTE’s leave your hand, they have a little bit of give when you throw them. If you miss the point a little bit, it actually puts quite a lot of strain on the elbow. It flexes, and lets your elbow recover a little bit. But as soon as it leaves your hand, it straightens up and stops vibrating. Especially in the OTE composite javelin (a combination of steel and carbon), you have the characteristics of carbon (where there’s hardly any flex in the javelin at all), but you also have the characteristics of steel, where it does flex. Especially when you throw now, you have that forgiveness of the steel in the javelin, so if you miss the point, it doesn’t affect your elbow so much.

As soon as it leaves your hand, it makes a bing noise and just straightens. There’s just no vibration whatsoever. You’re creating a better flight path and it’s easier for the javelin to self correct. But even if it’s not a composite, I would say that all the OTE’s are the best at dampening the vibrations through the flight.

I’ve always thrown with OTE, to be honest. In my senior career, I’ve always gravitated towards them. The other javelins are good, but my personal preference is that.

I think that’s part of it isn’t it, the personal preference of finding a javelin that suits you. And obviously as you’ve described, they’re a really top level javelin. And you’re looking for those characteristics, but at the end of the day, it’s about what feels comfortable in your hand and within your throwing style.

When you pick up javelins (and I’ve been throwing for a long time now), you pick one up and you go “oh god, nothing wants to fly!”. You have that intuition of saying you know what’s going to fly and what’s not for you. Everytime I pick an OTE up, I’ve thought to myself “this one’s going”.

Remind me never to let you in my warehouse! 

Yeah, keep the javelins away!

Lock them up when you come to visit!

So obviously for javelins, we’ve got discs that you can put around the nose of the javelin so you can throw it into a net indoors. There’s also javelin balls and things like that…

WHAT IS YOUR WINTER TRAINING LIKE? DO YOU THROW INDOORS OR DO YOU DO ALL YOUR TRAINING OUTDOORS? WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?

At the moment I live in Hereford, and my facilities that are available for specific javelin throwing is quite limited. I do all my training outdoors. If it’s snow, sun, or raining, I just put my waterproofs on and I’m out there. But to be honest, I kind of prefer that. I like being outside and it makes you feel like you’re working that extra bit harder!

I do minimum indoor throwing. If I do indoor throwing, it will be with weighted balls against the wall to get that conditioning of my arm, shoulder and elbow. But yeah, I can’t do javelin throwing indoors, unfortunately.

We’re all just fingers, toes, everything crossed that there’s not going to be any other lockdowns this winter. I think throwers have it the worst alongside pole vaulters, because you can hardly go down to your local park and practice with your javelin, because you’re going to kill someone's dog!

Especially me being a visually impaired javelin thrower!

You can see the newspaper headlines now! “Blind man spears dog in local park!”. Perhaps we won’t do that! 

WHAT DO YOU DO IN LOCKDOWN? WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS IF YOU CAN'T KEEP ON THE TRACK?

The people of Hereford have been amazing. They’ve literally given me the keys to some facilities during lockdown. I had a whole track to myself through lockdown, I couldn’t believe it! It was very open to the elements, so I did all of my training there.

There’s also a shipping container which I do all my training in. It’s sort of real caveman stuff, I put a torch in the corner and it’s howling with rain and wind outside, and I’m in this little shipping container just smashing balls against the wall!

Like your private gym!

Yeah, but it’s very, very rustic!

That’s really cool!

The gym I used to work at (The GU fitness centre), the owner there gave me the permission to use the gym as well during lockdown so again, I had all the facilities open for me, which is down to the warm heart of all the Herefordians out there!

And completely safe, because you’re the only one that’s able to do that… wow, that’s amazing! It’s the warmth of people, isn’t it?

I’ve been living here for two years, and all of them have been so supportive. When I came home from the Paralympics, my whole street was outside my house. It was 10pm and they were all still there (on a school night as well!), and they were there just cheering me on, which was great!

Hopefully following on from this, your profile in general is just going to hugely increase. One because you deserve it, but also…

...because of the tache!

You’re going to win the best beard award on some men’s magazine!

That’s what I’m going for, that’s the main target for next year, let’s do it!

Never mind the world record, we’ll just go for the beard! That’s just such a good idea!

It’s also awesome to raise the profile of para sport, just to show that there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t access sport and that there really is something for everybody and the benefits it can give you… it’s just fantastic!

I think para sport means something totally different to me than to what it was in able bodied sport. Able bodied was literally just all about the performance, but this is something totally different. It’s given me the wings to be able to go on to that extra level and think differently about my condition. 

Before I got into para sport, I always thought of my eye sight as something quite negative and sunk it into the back of my brain. I didn’t really think about it too much. Then, as soon as I went from my first national classification, the whole situation just did a whole 180.

I went from thinking “oh god, my eyesight... I wish it was better…” to “I hope my eyesight is as bad as they say it is as I want to do para sport!”. Immediately, it got me thinking positively about my eyesight and about my condition. 

I think that’s what para sport is so powerful at doing, which is enabling people to start thinking positively, which brings me back to my other point… if you have that one positive thing, and that positive thing is your disability, then there’s incredible things you can do not just for yourself, but also for other people who are going through the same as you, and showing them a pathway to start thinking differently about their disability. Then you empower people to become able beyond their dreams.

Wouldn’t it be great when if someone’s Googling retinitis pigmentosa, the first thing that comes up is not medical descriptions of the problems that you’re going to face… but the first thing that comes up is that Dan Pembroke smashes the Paralympic record, followed by the world record next year. Wouldn’t that be great!

Exactly. There’s so many things you can do. If you’ve been given this diagnosis recently, then yeah it’s not the greatest thing in the world. But, there’s so many things that are available to you. If you go to British Blind Sport’s website (https://britishblindsport.org.uk/) or if you’re wanting to get into Athletics, then contact British Athletics and there’ll be open days where you can try different sports…

…even if it’s not sport, if it’s anything you fancy doing. If you have a hobby or something you love to achieve, it can give you so much empowerment. To realise that your condition doesn’t hold you back. If it’s a degenerative condition like mine, then it’s going to get worse. But it’s not worse right now, so work with what you’ve got!

And if you keep working with what you’ve got, it brings me back to my other point which is that you adapt to what you’ve got. In 10 years time when you think how much worse your eyesight's going to get, then you’re going to adapt to that point. It’s up to you to be positive throughout that journey, so you adapt the best you possibly can and not hide yourself away and wrap yourself in cotton wool. You need to go out there and experience it.

It’s been awesome to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a complete pleasure. Congratulations again on the Paralympic performance. We look forward to seeing a lot more of you over the years to come, and we shall continue to keep in touch and follow your journey. And good luck with your winter season. Enjoy, and we’ll talk again soon!

Thank you very much, thanks for talking to me!

Next article Athlete Focus | Dan Pembroke | 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (Part 1)

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