In this second piece on the Tokyo Paralympics, Stuart Weir focuses on Maria Lyle.
More medals for Maria Lyle
The most surprising thing about Maria Lyle is that she is only 21. She already has five Paralympic medals, seven World Championship medals, six European gold medals, and a Commonwealth medal. It could be more. In 2012, she was the fastest in the world but aged 12 was deemed too young to compete in the Paralympics. Born with cerebral palsy, she has been running since she was 9 years old. I first watched her run in the 2015 World Championships in Doha where she collected two individual silvers and a relay medal, aged 15.
Another thing that is really impressive about Maria Lyle is the way she has talked openly about her mental health problems. In 2019 she told Athletics Weekly how she had become overwhelmed with worry about competing and that her concerns impacted her life away from the track. She was concerned that she wasn’t running well enough to justify the sacrifices her mother was making:
“Disappointing my mum wasn’t the only thing I was anxious about. I was worried about my competitors and factors I couldn’t control. Before the 2018 European Championships I revealed something to my mum that I have never spoken about before.
“I broke down and cried for hours, expressing how rubbish I felt about myself in both my running and personal life. Running had completely taken over and there was nothing positive.
“In my darkest moment my mum was there for me. She was the one who listened for hours. She was the one who hugged me. From that day, my mum and my immediate family have supported me. They have made me realise that there is more to life than running.”
In Tokyo she took two bronze medals, completing the 200 in 30.24. She commented: “I was fine in warm-up but I was so nervous just before the race. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that during a race before. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity again to come away with a medal and a season best. I’m proud of how I held myself, focused on what I had to do and won another bronze medal. Winning a medal is never set in stone, you’ve got to work hard for them”..
She collected another bronze in the 100m in 14.18, saying: “This is my second Paralympic Games, I really struggled with Rio due to my mental health, so for me it was about going out there and enjoying the experience. To run the time I have, and to enjoy the experience, I am really happy. It was always going to be difficult to challenge for gold and silver so I really had to stick to my own race plan. I didn’t expect the time. It was hard to gauge where I was because the other two girls (Zhou and Holt) were quite far ahead but I just focused on what I needed to do for my race. I knew from my heat I seized up a bit so I knew I had to relax more”.