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Max's Blog - My first month at Grainger

I'm one month in to the graduate programme at Grainger and already it feels like I've been here for a lot longer- in a good way of course! A lot seems to have happened from walking in nervously on my first day to now, most of all the fact that I've managed to crack most of the acronyms we use on a daily basis! So what's happened in this month?

The first week was all about trying to build up our knowledge of the company as well as talking us through processes such as the APC. Myself and Iain, the other Grad, spent the majority of the first two days meeting with key people from the different teams in Grainger, ranging from the development and corporate affairs teams to asset management and commercial. Whilst it was a lot of information to take on, having the chance to meet with important members of each department and ask questions not only helped our understanding of the business but also helped us to get to know members of teams we would not be working in to begin with. In between all of this we were taken out to lunch with Adam and Lizzie (the current grads) who are also our 'buddies'- it's great having two grads already here and being able to ask them any questions we have- no matter how silly they are!

Our first week also included a trip to Birmingham to visit one of our offices there and a tour around some of our London properties. It was nice to meet the team up in Birmingham and to get out and about on site to have a look at some of Grainger's portfolio both in and outside London.

My first placement is with the GRIP Asset Management team in the Knightsbridge office. GRIP (one of the many aforementioned acronyms!) is a fund which was set up with the Dutch pension fund APG earlier this year and focuses on trying to improve the quality of the portfolio over the long-term. My tasks are split between helping with the day-to-day running of the fund with tasks such as rental valuations and deposit releases and also working on my own project. The project is based on the disposal of some of our non-core assets and I've been tasked with leading the project and working out the best method for disposal in order to maximise returns- a slightly daunting but very exciting project to be leading at such an early stage!

Away from the office there have been a number of events that have helped me settle in to the Grainger way of life. There are always opportunities for after work drinks and I spent an afternoon with my team and the corporate development team riding down the Thames on a 'Rib Trip'- a very speedy way to see some of the sites of London!

I've also just enrolled on the APC and have already been to a number of CPD events (which help make up the 48 hours a year study you need to do to qualify as a chartered surveyor)- none better than the 'Lunch n Learn' sessions Grainger puts on, if only because of the free lunch!

So far so good then as a Grainger Grad!

Adam's blog

Adam’s blog - My first year at Grainger

Now that I’m coming to the end of my second placement and my first year with Grainger, I can begin to see what a packed year it’s been! I’ve been fortunate enough to work in two of Grainger’s offices and work across a number of projects and funds that all play a part in Grainger’s business.

After my first placement in the Lettings team in Putney, I moved onto working in the GRIP Asset Management team in the Knightsbridge office. It was a really exciting time to be joining this team as it had recently agreed a partnership deal with Dutch Pension fund, APG.

The partnership changed the way the fund was managed and now placed a focus on holding the assets for the long term and improving the quality of the assets. Therefore, we were heavily involved in refurbishing a significant number of units within the fund and aiming to create a property that could produce the highest returns possible. As some of the refurbishments are now beginning to complete, we’re able to see the tangible result of the work that went it to creating them.

I’ve also been involved in other projects outside of my placements that have a big impact on Grainger’s business and strategy. Mid-way through my first placement I joined a project team where the goal was to procure a nationwide repairs and maintenance contract that would cover all of Grainger’s properties. This was a huge project for Grainger which aimed to vastly reduce the cost of our repair and maintenance spending whilst also drastically improving the service we offer to our tenants.

From my point of view, it was fantastic to be part of such a project and be able to see it right through the procurement process to the mobilisation of the contract. At the time of writing we are just over a week away until the contract ‘goes live’ which is a very exciting and busy time for a lot of people within Grainger.

Since I started at Grainger I have also been working on the business development of another fund, GRamp. Whilst my placements and project commitments may have changed slightly, I’m still able to maintain a smaller role within this project. The project has allowed me to work with other people and teams that I wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to work with yet and has given me exposure to the exceptionally complicated world of banks and their lending!

I’m also just over a year away now from sitting my APC which is a slightly scary thought! Although I feel increasingly more prepared through my experiences and CPD sessions, I know that this is going to be a tough year if I’m to pass and gain the professional status.

I shortly move to my next placement in the Commercial team where I’m looking forward to working on some lease extensions which I’m sure will put my negotiation skills to the test. Two new Graduates will also be joining Grainger which I think Lizzie and I are secretly looking forward to – it’ll take some of the attention off of us for a while!

One year down, one more to go as a Grainger Grad…

Having reached the 6 month period, I am now a quarter of the way through the graduate scheme. Time has flown by! I have been involved in a huge variety of tasks and projects, enabling me to get to know a lot of people within the company and really expand my knowledge of the property world. Below are some of the projects I am involved with presently.

I am currently responsible for finding Grainger’s new London HQ along with Nick Bailey, a trainee surveyor in the commercial team. This has been a fantastic project to be involved in. We have been given a lot of responsibility, and have learnt a huge deal about various aspects of the commercial property sector; such as the role of a commercial agent, property law and commercial leases, the current state of the London office market and landlord and tenant negotiations. Having carried out a desktop study and contacted agents, we presented to the senior directors on the London office market highlighting the various submarkets that exist and the opportunity each area presents, in terms of transport links, tenant profile, local amenities, rent levels and available space. Having discussed Grainger’s business plan over the next 10 years, a shortlist of requirements was drawn up. We then visited approximately 40 offices we felt to be suitable. This enabled a short-list of properties to be created which we re-visited before creating a detailed profile for each, highlighting the approximate total expenditure, calculated through a study of the preliminary heads of terms, deals done by tenants in occupation, the service charge and business rates; the floor plans and area schedule; and the lease terms. We then presented our findings to the directors. Following this, we re-visited 5 offices that were felt to be suitable with the directors. We now have two properties under consideration and have produced financial models for each, highlighting the total outgoings over the next ten years. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to take such a key role in this project - another highlight being the opportunity to take a private early morning tour of the shard viewing platform – despite being rather scared of heights!

Beyond the office search, my current responsibilities included improving the sustainability of our GRIP fund, in conjunction with Jones Lang LaSalle’s Up Stream Sustainability Services. In this vein, I have been renegotiating all our electricity and gas contracts with a utility broker – ensuring smart meters are fitted to all GRIP blocks enabling us too easily and accurately monitor our energy usage. I have also co-ordinated the collection of quarterly meter readings by Grainger’s property managers, collated this into a schedule and worked with Jones Lang LaSalle to calculate Grainger’s emissions. I am also in the process of re-negotiating many of the GRIP contracts through a tender process, namely, Lifts, Water Hygiene and Fire Safety Maintenance, as well as Energy and Gas. I have enjoyed working on this project as I have been able to improve the service received whilst reducing costs.

I have enjoyed my time at Grainger so far and am looking forward to the new opportunities and challenges the rest of the scheme will provide.

Adam's blog

Adam's blog - My First Three Months at Grainger

Three months is a fairly long period of time. So when I look back at my first three months at Grainger, I ask myself: where has the time gone? It doesn't seem so long ago that I was arriving nervously for my first day, meeting so many new faces and names that it got to the point where I could barely remember my own name. I'd like to think that I've now managed to put some right names to faces and if I've been getting it wrong, people are too nice to correct me.

The first couple of weeks were definitely daunting but having the other grad, Lizzie around helped relax the both us. We also had the welcoming support of our buddies and mentors who treated us to a number of posh lunches around Knightsbridge - this seemed to calm me as I'm always at my most content when I'm eating great food!

It wasn't long before I was off to the Putney office to begin my first rotation in the lettings department. I was greeted by a very friendly team who assured me that they are the 'nicest and best team in all of Grainger'. Strong words but they are yet to let me down.

I was introduced to the projects that I would be working on and although initially I had little idea what was being talked about (all the projects have such odd names!), as the days and weeks progressed I began to see my role within the projects and the impacts this would have behind Grainger as a business.
Without going into the nitty gritty, my projects include: reviewing the processes and procedures behind lettings; business development of a Grainger fund; and reviewing Grainger's position in the lettings market to see how rents can be improved.

Listing the projects like that helps me reflect on my first three months - I think I'm very fortunate to be working on such projects as I can't imagine too many graduates are involved with the business development of a business' core fund. I suppose that has been one of the main highlights of my time with Grainger so far; having the opportunity to be involved so early on.

Away from work, Grainger puts on a number of social events. There's always occasions for after-work drinks and I'm wary of the importance between drinking and having a good time but also getting overly drunk. A balance that some struggle to find! These occasions are always good fun and allow you to meet and speak to people in the office that perhaps you wouldn't do otherwise and I think helped they me to settle in so quickly.

Next up is the Christmas party in Newcastle. It'll be my first time up in Newcastle and I'm really excited about it. Although I've become more familiar with the Geordie accent whilst at Grainger, I'm also looking forward to meeting those from the different regional Grainger offices. I've heard from others that it's a great day and night for the party - it's just the early and long train journey home with the headache that's the difficult bit!

Overall it's been a great start, so here's to the next three months!

My First Week as a Grainger Graduate 

Monday

I arrived anxious and excited on my first day at Grainger. Having been to a Grainger BBQ in the summer, some of the faces were familiar to me when I walked around the office which was nice.    On the first day we were whisked in to a series of meetings with key members of the Grainger team.  I found it really valuable to talk to individuals about their specific role and the part their team plays in the business, whether it be asset management, corporate affairs, funding or re-development.  Adam (the other Grad) and I had lunch out with both of our ‘buddys’, namely colleagues of a similar age to whom we could turn to for advice, nicely broke up the day, providing our brains with temporary respite.

Tuesday

I will be spending my first month placement within the development team in the Knightsbridge office and Tuesday was my chance to get to know them all properly. I will be specifically focussed on four projects during my time within the team. These projects are all long-term and currently in the planning and development stages, enabling me to play a key role in their delivery. These projects are all very different, allowing me an over-view of property development in terms of scale, location and property asset class.  It’s true when they say that you are given responsibility early on!

Wednesday

On Wednesday I attended a meeting at an agency in the City to discuss the on-going bidding process  for a large development in Berkshire we have been shortlisted for. I have been appointed the internal project manager, tasked with leading the proposal forward. This is an exciting but daunting role, as I am required to both organise a team of senior market players and ensure our application is of the highest quality.

In the afternoon, I travelled to a meeting at an architect’s office at Sands End to discuss a planning proposal for two large residential sites in prime South-West London. It was exciting to be involved in the process of designing these new buildings, both in a fantastic London location.

Thursday

On Thursday, Adam and I had IT training to familiarise ourselves with the software used to organise and process invoices and outgoings of all our properties.  Following this I had lunch with my Mentor Tracey at Pizza Express round the corner, she is helping me with my APC . Tracey is really great - one of the many friends I have made here. In the afternoon Adam and I met with Helen, head of graduate recruitment, to catch up on the week’s events and check we were settling in well.

Friday

On Friday, Adam and I were introduced to the APC process. We have been provided with lots of information on both the commercial and residential stream in order to help us choose which we would like to take. The afternoon was spent back in the development team!

Business initiatives and responses

Portfolio

Initiative: Portfolio refocus on selective areas of value or growth, through application of careful acquisition criteria and rebalancing to London and the South East

Grainger made two strategic portfolio acquisitions in the first six months of 2011, which helped to increase the weighting of our portfolio to London and the South East. These were HI Tricomm Holdings Limited from Invista Castle and our partner's share in the Grainger GenInvest LLPs. These acquisitions brought approximately £400m of assets onto the Group balance sheet.

The HI Tricomm acquisition brought 317 freehold units across the South of England into our portfolio, while the GenInvest acquisition from approximately 1,650 units in central London into our portfolio.

Both acquisitions are consistent with our strategy to acquire high quality portfolios of residential assets delivering good long-term returns.

Joan

Joan - Mariners' Cottages 2222

As a little girl Joan used to walk in the park next to the Mariner's Cottages and always dreamt of living there. Many years later, after a two year wait once her husband had submitted his Seaman's Passbook, her dream finally came true. She's now been living in the cottages for 15 years.

Joan is a true enthusiast of the area's local history. She remembers back to a time when local children would get a penny to come and tell the captain his ship was coming in. She credits Grainger with recognising the historic and social value of the properties, and for the care, attention and resources they've put into the homes, "these are little gems and they were starting to deteriorate until Grainger came along," she says.

Of Grainger's role as landlord, Joan says, "I can't speak highly enough of them," adding, "we've got new windows. We've got our repairs done." Grainger's property manager Ian Lawson agrees with Joan about the importance of investing in these unique and valuable assets to protect their special character and history into the next century.

As well as buying good properties with good tenants, Grainger recognises that supporting tenants with everyday issues is a critical part of the ongoing partnership. It's a two-way process, Ian says, where tenants need to see the value in the rent they're paying.

Joan says when she has a problem, she can pick up the phone and speak directly to Ian. "If I need something doing, he gets on to it, which is great. You don't fill in forms like these other housing estates." When her cooker blew up recently (the cottages were built before cooker and washing machines), Grainger installed a new fuse box with extra capacity, within a week. "Nothing ever takes very long," she says.

The work done updating the cottages' paintwork has given a real uplift to the local area. Grainger knows how important the sense of community is, especially when it takes pride in its surroundings. In this community, Joan explains, people look out for each other and she's never heard a bad word said about their landlord. "If it's said, I would soon put them right because they've done an amazing job," she says.

Business Initatives

Leveraging our operational platform to bring in new income streams

Lloyds Banking Group selected Grainger as the preferred supplier to the Residential Asset Management Platform ('RAMP') for the bank and to subsequently manage the assets which are placed into it, following commencement of an insolvency process. Grainger's RAMP operates on behalf of insolvency practitioners appointed on loans owned by Lloyds Banking Group and has 1,545 units now under Grainger management. The creation of RAMP leverages Grainger's UK-wide asset management platform and expertise of owning and managing residential assets.

The agreement with Lloyds Banking Group represents a further step forward in Grainger's strategy to increase revenues from its existing resource base. Grainger will receive fees based on rent, disposals and shared success fees, thereby fully aligning its interests with those of any Administrator or Receiver of any assets placed into the RAMP.

Business Initatives

Long term income streams from our development division

Grainger was appointed by the Ministry of Defence's Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) as the development partner for the 148 hectare Aldershot Urban Extension in Hampshire. The MoD will retain ownership of the Aldershot Urban Extension site and Grainger will regenerate the land at Aldershot Garrison to create a mixed-use residential scheme of around 4,250 homes together with community facilities, schools, local centres and leisure facilities.

Also this year, Grainger received outline planning permission for 2,550 homes in Hampshire, west of Waterlooville. Both projects are long term, lasting 10-20 years and will deliver steady income streams to the business.

Early consideration and implementation of debt financing options

Grainger refinanced £1.2bn of its debt facilities during this financial year, extending maturities and diversifying our sources of funding. £840mn was through a Forward Start Facility, signed with five relationship banks. Another £50m was initially drawn for certain of the Group's Retirement Solutions assets, non-recourse to the rest of the Group with Partnership Assurance ("Partnership"). The facility is repayable on a property-by-property basis as the assets become vacant and are sold, with interest rolling up on each property. The remaining sources of funding are transaction-specific through the GenInvest acquisition and HI Tricomm.

Corporate responsibility case studies

Updated green office action plan (standards being set for offices)

Grainger established its first green office action plan in 2009 to reduce the environmental impacts of our offices. During 2010/11, we updated this plan to move from an encouraged but optional framework, to establish standard policies. We now require the use of recycled paper and procurement of eco-friendly soap and washing up products. Our offices will no longer be allowed to purchase disposable cups. We also strengthened the advice given to staff to use video conferencing facilities where possible, in line with Grainger's Green Travel Policy. Our next step is to ensure that all seven of our offices are applying these standard policies.

By aligning our working practices across our offices, we aim to minimise waste and use resources as efficiently as possible. This will benefit the environment and save Grainger money.

Achieving higher level of the Code for Sustainable Homes for developments

Grainger aims to enhance communities by designing and delivering quality, sustainable developments. To this end, Grainger commits to achieving CSH level 4 on all newly consented schemes.

Our regeneration scheme in King Street, Hammersmith is an example of this in practice. The development will include 290 residential units alongside 38,000 sq ft of retail space and 85,000 sq ft of council offices. Currently going through the planning process, the scheme submitted for planning is achieving CSH level 4. Sustainable measures include a centralised Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system, photovoltaic panels and green roofs. The design also includes a new public square and carefully considers public access, particularly for the disabled, elderly and families with pushchairs.

Through aspiring to higher levels of the code, Grainger can strengthen its reputation as a company that follows best practice and delivers sustainable residential led developments.

Process of auditing managing agents and major contractors against H&S criteria

Grainger has a robust internal health and safety audit process to ensure that our managing agents and major contractors meet their legal requirements and Grainger's own health and safety standards. All managing agents are audited on a bi-ennial basis and all major contractors on an annual basis. We use an internally developed set of criteria (based on OHSAS 1800 as well as significant risk areas identified by Grainger) to grade each company. An action plan is produced to address any areas of weakness and Grainger is committed to working with its managing agents and contractors to make sure the necessary improvements are implemented. As of 30 September, we had completed 89% of our managing agent audits and 83% of our major contractor audits.

By ensuring that the firms with which we work, meet our health and safety standards, Grainger can demonstrate its commitment to providing a safe work environment, risk mitigation and protection of the company's reputation. We plan to develop our audit protocols to include environmental criteria in 2011/12.

What our stakeholders say

Peter Moyles

Rushmoor Borough Council - Aldershot Urban Extension

Councillor Peter Moyles
Grainger prides itself on the depth and range of consultation we undertake, particularly in the initial stages of a project. With a project as significant as the redevelopment and creation of over 4,500 new homes in Aldershot, this focus was key to creating a success for all stakeholders.

One of the key participants in the project was Rushmoor Borough Council, led by Councillor Peter Moyles. He praised our 'refreshing' approach of open consultation, commitment, knowledge and expertise, admitting Grainger had "done a lot of our legwork for us".

Grainger was quick to consult not only with local residents, but also with councillors, businesses and shops. Local people particularly appreciated plans to redevelop the much loved Cambridge Military Hospital, which has served the Army and civilians for many years.

Throughout the redevelopment planning, we were committed to taking into account the best of what the existing Aldershot site has to offer, from its historic heritage and scenic views to its infrastructure and very strong community.

"It's encouraging that the kind of things that Grainger want to do, will build on what we are doing already," Mr Moyles said. "They are actually building into Aldershot rather than out of it."

Stephen Miller

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEsNamf8dvI

Sorry for posting the above video again but it's the best contribution I made to the London 2012 Paralympic Games so I have to milk it for all its worth.

Well what can I say about that then? Quite a lot actually and I will attempt to bore you half to death in the next minute or so that it takes you to skim down this blog post (it's a long one so hang in there). It's a week since I took part in the heroes parade and I can safely say it was the most astonishing thing I've ever experienced, and I've done my fair share of victory parades - in 2004 I shared a float with the soon to be Dame Kelly Holmes and I also had some bling to show off. It was nothing compared to last Monday though, the vast crowds stretched as far back as you could see and the energy from the crowd was immense. Everyone just wanted to show how proud they were of this Great British team that competed so well in their home games.

In the morning I was wondering if I'd made the right decision to stay and take part in the parade, feeling a bit fraudulent at my lack of personal glory to show off and celebrate, but the crowd cheered whether you showed them something shiny or not. The positivity around London holding such a successful Games was infectious and to be part of that special moment as we went through Trafalgar Square is something that will stay with me for life - I don't think we'll see such scenes again.

It's been over 2 weeks since I entered the Olympic stadium and still the thought of it makes me sick. Normally after even the slightest below par performance I tear myself to bits in the days and weeks to come, but I haven't done that this time. I think I'm too heartbroken this time; it's a weird empty feeling that took over as soon as I left the cage that fateful Friday morning. I normally rise to a challenge, to the big day but for the first time I ducked out miserably when it meant so much to me, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it.

Did I let the occasion get to me? Did the noise from the crowd affect me? Did I want it too much? Probably yes, but the reality is that I have been struggling for a long time and haven't been truly happy with myself since 2010 in terms of training and how I felt in my throwing. The dream was to compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and to be competitive, broken hip or not. We achieved it and I have never worked harder up to any other championship, I was probably in the best physical shape of my life but my body wouldn't allow me to get near my potential - that is more frustrating than you can ever imagine and I've had to deal with that frustration for the best part of 3 years.

I have no regrets; people might now say I should've had the hip replacement 2 years ago. I made the decision to hold off for London, knowing the pain I would have to go through and knowing I would probably not be able to throw to my true potential. I qualified for the team legitimately, following up my world championship bronze performance with two 30+ metre performances this year and also winning the European Championships. For the first time though I went into a major championships a bit behind and knowing I needed to find something to get amongst the medals. I was ranked 5th going into the competition and was targeting 32-33 metres to win a medal, I had thrown this far in training albeit not consistently in the week leading up. In the end I would have needed to put 32cm on my personal best to get bronze (36.32m) and I know I wasn't fit enough to do that.

The class 51s took everyone by surprise, I think they all threw PBs or SBs and I got beat on distance by the gold and silver medallists, which is ridiculous. When the first athlete to throw broke the World Record with his first throw I said 'Shit, here we go'. The 51 class hasn't progressed for many years so I guess they were due a day like that. As it turned out 32.50 metres would've put me 4th and my season's best would've put me 7th (30.71m). Little consolation then. With 9 class 32s and 8 class 51s in the competition I'll never understand why it was combined but hopefully it will be separated in future as there are now plenty of athletes in each class on the rankings.

I don't think I will ever get over my performance of 26.70m, my worst performance this year (and that includes throwing into a gale at Gateshead) - it was an absolute shocker of monumental terms, I really can't say anything positive about it apart from I did get two throws measured at exactly the same distance - impressive! I've given up trying to explain it, I don't think we'll ever know what really happened, and I felt fine in warm up if a bit nervous. It will have to go down as a freak bad day, I haven't had many in 17 years of competing at the highest level, just sods law it happened in London. I hate saying this because its so cliché but I felt so sorry for my long suffering coach (mam) who put so much time and effort into getting me to London and had me throwing really well in Portugal, I was so sad I didn't put in a performance that did justice to all the hard work and heart ache. Same goes to my fiancé Rachel who did a sterling job organising tickets and the Team Miller t-shirts.

Then in my deepest sorrow after my competition I experienced my most special moment of any Paralympic Games, I met the majority of Team Miller in Olympic Park along with hundreds of random punters who encircled me and chanted 'There's only one Stephen Miller', I was almost embarrassed but the next two hours of taking pictures and chatting to everyone, I realised how excited they were to be at the Paralympics and that they would never have had the experience had I been sitting at home watching it on TV. Thank you to everyone who was part of team miller, you all made me feel so humble - there was one member missing on the day, my dad, who if we could send stuff up-stairs would've been wearing a Team Miller t-shirt, moaning about how uncomfortable it was and shouting 'What the **** is he playing at!' at me. My dad was a major inspiration for me to continue competing with my hip problem, I know how much pain he went through as he battled his bowel cancer and I knew if he could be that strong and dignified in the face of death I could cope with some pain in my left hip.

There are lots of people and organisations who have been integral to my achievements to date and especially to my ability to compete this year:

UK Sport and UK Athletics

They have funded me since 2000 and have been brilliant in supporting me and my coach up to London 2012.

Grainger PLC

Have sponsored me for two years and provided great support when Rach and I moved into our bungalow, they also made up a substantial part of Team Miller.

Mannatech

Have provided my sport nutrition supplements since 2009 and have made a big difference in keeping me healthy.

Meyra

Supplied me with a new electric wheelchair and sports clothing prior to London 2012 and continue to give great support.

Sainsbury's

Were the fantastic sponsor of the Paralympic Games and I'm proud to be one of their ambassadors.

Outdoor Fitness Company

The Unit Gym have helped me with personal training since last year and have given me a new lease of life with S&C.

BVAL Arts & Leisure

Continue to give me full access to their facilities to supplement my training.

EIS

I receive great medical support from my Physio Penny Macutkiewics, my soft tissue therapist Amy Woolstenholmes and my doctor Graeme Wilkes who has had the glorious task of injecting me every 3 months for the last 3 years. Also a huge shout out to my chiropractor Andy Maier who has been treating me for the last five years.

Tharsus

Finally, thanks to Tharsus who helped develop a new throwing frame that didn't quite work out for London but might be the bomb when I get my new hip.

London was my first major championship outside the medals in my whole career, it would be easy to be bitter and twisted about the whole thing but I remain philosophical and look to the positives. This was the best Paralympics in history and propelled Paralympic sport to a level we could only imagined beforehand, to be a part of that and to be the Male Athletics Team Captain was an honour I cannot put into words. To lead such a young team that did so well made me feel very proud. We now must maintain the excitement and interest around Paralympic sport throughout the next four years and not let it die out until Rio. I still have many issues with classification in athletics and the ethos around seated throws but that can wait for another blog. For now I'm preparing for my total hip replacement which I'm having on the 4th of October, and then I start the long journey back to fitness. Being pain free for the first time in just about 6 years will make everything easy to take on though I'm sure.

  

John Robertson

LONDON 2012

WOW........

What can you say about the last few months, amazing, proud, blown away, successful etc etc.

We have been training away down in Falmouth from the end of June due to some 'Other Event’ taking place before ours in September and as they had to secure the venue etc we were turfed out with sandwich and drink and told to go away and not come back until the 22nd August.

The venue that we found was perfect; down near Falmouth a small marina called Mylor with a Yacht club, pub, apartments all within a few seconds of each other made it the ideal location for our final preparations and run in to the games. We had 3 camps down there and gradually ironed out any little things that we think we needed to work on i.e. Last day scenarios, this is where we simulate the final race of the Games and pile the pressure on as we race only our 1 training boat we give ourselves specific targets like trying to beat them by 20 seconds or slow them down so we finish behind the imaginary fleet of boats.

With all of our prep down and sails selected the boat was despatched of for a final polish and tickle of all of our systems as to make sure everything was operating as required. We then had a few days to pop home and have a final catch-up with friends and family etc and then it would be back to Weymouth and Portland and time to get all of our massive number of items of kit to our accommodation and unpacked and hung up in readiness for the event ahead.

We did not go to the opening ceremony in London as we thought that by the time we all got back to Weymouth after a long day it may affect our performances during the event so our bosses had booked us into a really nice hotel just outside Weymouth for a bit of team building and a fantastic meal and then watching the ceremony on a large screen. We all wore our opening ceremony outfits which were very pimp if you can remember were awesome white and gold numbers which I’m going to wear loads of times around the town when I get the chance.

Well it’s time to get on with the racing; we have worked so hard over the last few years to maintain a steady and ruthless attitude to our races and keep everything the same and not to panic. This approach works really well for us as you see other teams starting off really well then by halfway through the week it all goes pear-shaped and this is where we become stronger, as you can see by the results our steady approach was working well and we worked our way up the table to a point from silver and in Bronze medal position with 1 race to go. This is when a small misunderstanding between an official and our Bosun gained us a 4 point discretionary penalty.........We were dumbfounded by this and tried in vain to get the hearing reopened but sadly for some reason the jury were fixed on giving us the penalty. This is really weird as there are penalties for support staff which do not affect the sailors and this is where we get even more frustrated as we had the best rules minds in the world on the case and they could not understand it either. So we are now in the position of sending our case off to the Court for Arbitration in Sport who operate in Switzerland, we think we have a strong case and as long as they will hear the case we have logic and fact on our side, I can’t really elaborate any more then that other than to say we did ourselves proud and we know and the whole fleet know that we won a Bronze Medal and by the time I see you all in a month or so we will have an answer and fingers crossed the medal that we have been fighting for the last 12 years.......Wish us luck.

John

Eleni Papadopoulos

After not being selected as part of the Paralympic team I was absolutely devastated. The selection panel for the British Swimming Team decided not to use all of their available slots which resulted in four female spaces being returned to the International Paralympic Committee. It was heart-breaking to see that some people who had not achieved the qualifying time, like myself, had been selected for the Games. After winning the British Championships in a new British Record I really thought I stood a chance of clinching one of the remaining slots.

It took me a little while to come to terms with the situation as I had performed so well but it simply wasn’t good enough. Even though I was over the moon for my friends who had made it I couldn’t help but feel let down by the panel as I was 1.1% away from the qualifying time whereas some people had been around 3.5% away from the time and had been selected. Nonetheless, true to my nature, I kept my head down and tried to get on with it, pushing myself harder and harder in training and it paid off. At the ASA Summer Nationals I won the 100m Butterfly for the functional classes and came third in the 200m Individual Medley. However, my best swim had to be the 100m Freestyle in which I finished 4th because this is an event which I usually struggle to make the final, so to finish so high in it meant a lot to me. These were all multi-classification in which members of each class race together. In regards to the S10 class, the one I compete in, I was constantly finishing in the top two except in the 400m freestyle where I finished 4th. As hard as it was to race against the Paralympic Team whilst knowing how much I had wanted to be a part of it, I definitely finished my swimming season on a high.

But my summer holiday didn’t start then. After speaking to Dave Butler and after much help from Adam McGhin, I managed to set up a week’s placement with the legal firm DWF in Manchester after I returned from Nationals. I had always meant to organise work experience over the years to get a feel for the industry but due to university and training commitments combined I never quite managed to. I am so grateful to Dave and Adam for their help and advice because it was one of the best weeks of my life. I simply enjoyed it so much and working from 8.30-5pm didn’t seem to bother me at all because the time just seemed to fly by. I was placed in Banking and Finance and although I felt quite nervous on my first day everyone helped me settle into the general routine of things and by the end of the week I had been given numerous opportunities in nearly all of the departments which was extremely beneficial for me to discover which area I enjoyed the most. All in all I think I prefer the litigation side to the career which proves just how essential the week was because I won’t have to try a bit of everything during my degree as I already know what I would prefer to do. Once again I really have to thank Dave and Adam for helping me set that week up because it was completely invaluable and at the end of it I really didn’t want to leave!

After four years of medical investigations the doctors finally worked out why I have been having on-going problems with my lower back and my legs. In June this year I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, a chronic inflammatory arthritis which is apparently the cause for all my problems and frequent injuries. I’ve been put onto medication which seems to be helping me and the International Paralympic Committee are considering my case for a re-classification. This gives me hope that due to this new condition, which in all honesty has affected my legs quite badly, I will be placed into a new and more suitable classification for my ability.

I believe that this is my last blog for Grainger PLC and it doesn’t even feel that long ago that I began writing them. I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported me throughout the past two years and even though I haven’t made this year’s Games I’m going to push onto 2016. I remember receiving letters from people within the company during the time when I prolapsed my disc and I am just so grateful to everyone who kept supporting me throughout.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller July blog

Mega sorryness and remorse for the lack of blogging. Have been busy winning my 3rd European club throw title and trying to qualify for my 5th Paralympic Games. It’s always a nerve-wracking time when Paralympic team selection looms and this time was more tense than any other games I’ve gone for because it is in London and because of the strength and depth of disability athletics in the last few years – the standards required to get into the team were incredibly high, lots of very good athletes didn’t get in and my thoughts go out to them at this tough time.

I’m extremely proud that I’ve been selected for my 5th Paralympic Games, many people said it was never in doubt, but I didn’t take anything for granted and until I got that phone call I had a very twitchy bum. I’ve had to work harder and overcome more obstacles to get to these games, there have been many periods when I really thought I would not get to this position and that makes it all the more satisfying. I of course take all the adulation and am happy to do so, but it goes without saying that many people have been instrumental in this campaign and my success is shared with them. Getting this far is fantastic but only the beginning, now we move on and ensure the most is made of this opportunity. Who would have thought a skinny ginger kid from Newcastle would be going into a 5th Paralympic Games looking to maintain an (we all know it’s true) unbeaten record, I plan to do so with passion, determination and enjoyment.

Prior to selection I travelled to Holland to defend my European title. I know that I was away when the infamous Geordie storm hit Newcastle, but the weather wasn’t much better the day I competed. There was already a horrendous head wind to throw into, and as soon as I got a club in my hand the heavens opened. I thought my first throw was going to come back and hit me in the back of the head, when the distance came up as 23 metres something I was worried, but I managed to dig deep and get to 29.10 metres somehow and I was more than happy to take that given the conditions (not the first time I’ve said that this season). The competition was strong even with only 4 in it, two guys were capable of 30m plus but the conditions got to them more than me so I’m hoping it’s just as terrible in London on the 31st of August. A win is a win no matter how far you throw and it was a great moment to be on top of the podium at a major championships for the first time since 2006. It also completed a treble treble for me of 3 Paralympic, 3 World and 3 European titles without defeat.

The self-honouring stops now as we now enter the final few weeks before the Paralympics. It seems completely surreal that there are only 40 days to go, and it’s going very quick. Now is the time when every session is massively important, I’m focussed on nailing everything to the ground (not literally) and raising the quality of my work as high as it will go. All the people I meet are mega-excited and I feel that excitement but I need to stay calm and get my work done effectively.

This Paralympic games will be different to all the rest I’ve been to because it’s the first time my dad won’t be there supporting. No doubt this will be an emotional time for me and my family – it always is at the Paralympics, but this time will be more than ever. Knowing my dad, he would not want me to get upset at his absence, he would tell me to do my best and he’d be proud whatever happens. I think this is a good mentality to take into the games. I want to perform to my maximum potential but I also want to enjoy the experience of this historic Paralympic Games.

The Games

When the mist descends

Worlds can end

Anyone can fail

Anyone can prevail

Years later when we tell the tale

We’ll hardly believe it was true

It was, and it was all you.

John Robertson

John Robertson

June blog

Well what a few months it has been......BUSY, BUSY, BUSY and quite busy!

We have been so excited over the last months with us  being away in France at the end of April and then our last event in June(Sail 4 Gold regatta) before the games in September.

We love going over to French France and as it has proved in the past we had a great experience. We arrived as usual and unpacked the boat and prepared for racing in our normal way but with the forecast looking breezy we had to get into our even tougher mindset as having a full we of big breeze is quite unusual for us in the sailing world. We got off to a great start and nailed a couple of races on the first day with the wind being the much famed 'Mistral' which blows hard from the med all day long.

We then had a repeat of day 1 but with even bigger waves which made it awesome fun on the racecourse but by the time racing finished we were also 'FINISHED'  and in need of some attention from our support team of physio's....thanks Lilly..x We had managed to get into the lead by half way through the week in tough conditions so it was looking good for the last few races of the event so we got down there bright and early 0800!!!? to try and squeeze some races in before the wind picked up to 40knts(42mph), we had launched and sailed out of the marina then the organisers abandoned the racing for the day so we had to turn tail and get back to the marina and pack up for the day.

As the previous day was too windy we arrived  on the last day ready to give it our all to seal a victory in France but it proved not to be the case as the wind had built again and therefore racing was abandoned and we were crowned champions of Hyeres........... whoop, whoop!

Next event was the Delta Llyod event in the Netherlands but unfortunately Steve who trims the mainsail developed an illness so had to return home to get it sorted out. Seeing as we were already over in Holland  we had a few options to either come back home or see if we could get permission to sail with an able bodied person so we could still get something from the event. We found a guy called Guy who is a great Guy who flew out to join us and be a Steve stand in for a few days. We sailed well enough but it was quite different to normal with 'Our Steveo' not being there but nevertheless we made the best of a bad job and with the Sail 4 Gold event only a week later it was more important to get everyone fit and healthy before our final big test.......

Sail for Gold.

We had been sailing well in the last few events and were confident before racing, but as we do we made a bit of an error on the first race and ended up nearly last.....oops! But as we have worked very hard over the last coupe of years on being able to put bad results behind us we reset and got back on the horse and had a 3,1, 5 the next day which pushed us up the leader board and in a great position to attack the rest of the fleet.   During the last few days we had to wait as the pesky breeze had followed us all around the continent and as it proved in Hyeres we had managed to get into a leading position halfway through so all was hinged on the last day but like before the organisers Abandoned racing for us in the Paralympic classes and we were again 'Winners'. This goes to show that in sailing the event is valid after 3 races so as long as you are leading after a couple of days you are always in with a chance if the weather does not behave as planned.

So lots of lessons learned as always and now off down to Falmouth for training this month as the Venue here in Portland is being prepared for the start of the Olympic Games at the end of July.

Hope to see you all down here watching from the beach in September........ :)

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

June blog

It's been a mega busy few weeks; I've squeezed 3 competitions into four weeks. Now I said we would never do what we did last year and chase competitions hoping that things will get better. Last year I competed more than ever before, so this year we had a clear competition plan up to the European Championships, which is to be my last competition before the Paralympic games (if selected). As with all good plans they have to be flexible and we did fit in an extra competition to coincide with a trip to Coventry to speak with my consultant about my hip operation.

The last time I blogged I had done a competition at Gateshead which nearly left me with pneumonia and I was about to compete at Stoke Mandeville. That competition was hugely frustrating as I threw 28.54 metres and in training I'd been throwing much further. It's very unusual for me to throw less in competition than in training as it's normally the other way round. It's an obvious case of trying to hard in the competition and tightening up rather than letting it happen. As an athlete you always want to be the best you can be and when you're below your expectations it can be maddening, especially when you know how hard you work, but performance sport is all about performance and results, you don't get points for how hard you work. After performances like this I say things to myself like 'not good enough', 'got to do better', 'useless ginger biscuit' etc, then I get over it and move on.

The opportunity to compete at Birmingham came up in the England Athletics National Championships. It was the day after my consultation with Professor Griffin in Coventry. Mr Griffin has been brilliant with me since I was referred to him in 2009, I have complete trust in him - I walked in the door, he looked me in the eye and asked 'is it hurting?', I said 'yes, pretty much all the time' and he said 'I think it's time'. I agreed and I'll be having hip replacement surgery in October/November this year, with the main aim being to make me pain free and comfortable, then we'll take it from there - I don't think this will necessarily be the end of my athletics career. At the competition I threw 28.36 and was screaming 'you useless ginger biscuit at myself'. The feeling of frustration was even more because I was sure I'd improve on last time, again I was trying too hard to get it right. With throwing it just takes one thing to click and you can be flying, we know I'm in great shape physically and it's just timing that is off - plus I'm try to smack the club all over like a drunken man. Maybe I should take it out to dinner and buy it flowers, then it might go further.

Last week I competed at Stoke Mandeville again, we'd made some slight tweaks to the frame and it seemed to work as I threw a seasons best by over 2 metres of 30.57, it was a massive relief to get over 30 metres for the first time this year and it will give me a lot of confidence going forward. I still feel like I didn't nail any of my throws so I know there's still a lot more in the tank. If I can keep improving I should be up to a decent standard by the end of August. Right now I'm fully focussed on the European Championships in Holland where I compete a week on Monday. Then it's all about team selection for the Paralympics, I've never taken anything for granted in my whole career so team selection is always a nervous time.

You have probably noticed that the Olympic torch is doing the rounds at the moment, I have to say that I don't really agree with all these celebrities doing it, when it should be about the volunteers and supporters that don't get much publicity and recognition. The torch gives these people the chance to take centre stage and be part of history, like everything though it's been taken over by corporate agendas to generate publicity and money, but I guess that's the world we live in.

I nominated my brother because he has supported me throughout my career and shared in all my successes without ever being bitter or jealous. He's volunteered at events I've been at and has been sort of in my shadow, he deserved to be the centre of attention for once. We had a fantastic day on the coast at Whitley Bay, the crowd was amazing and made it a great day and it made you feel part of something special. That is what the torch relay is all about - not token celebrities.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

May blog

April seemed to fly by with a two week UK Athletics training camp taking up most of the month. Like most training camps there was nothing too exciting that I can report apart from the amazing Oakley sunglasses I bought in the airport on the way back. It was a productive two weeks though, over which I had only 3 rest days, I was able to do lots of technical work which is always one of the main aims of warm weather training. I threw consistently well over the two weeks and we were happy that some resemblance of decent technique was starting to appear. I did end up very much in the wars as I threw more than I would normally and with my left hip being so tight I rubbed pretty much all the hair and skin off my left shin where it slides against my right leg - no pain, no gain, as someone said once.

The beauty of warm weather training is that you discover technical problems and flaws, and you have time to sort them out before the serious business gets going. As a result of this, I may be wearing full length tights when I throw, which will hopefully put off the opposition as I will look ridiculous - the things you have to do to throw a stick a long way. Two weeks is a long time to be on a training camp, but I got through my down time by watching pretty much every second of the European Weightlifting Championships, taking in CBBC and playing scrabble on Danny's Ipad - I came last every night until the last night when I swept to victory, only to look a fool by tweeting 'Finally won at Scrabble'!

The weather in Portugal was mainly anything but warm, however getting off the plane at Newcastle, I was reminded what cold really is. I knew I had my first competition of the momentous 2012 season the weekend after coming back from Portugal, and I was really up for it. I was confident and feeling good in myself, despite the horrid weather forecast I felt I could throw very well and get off to a flier. That was until I turned up at Gateshead Stadium on the Sunday morning - it was Baltic, and a raging wind was whipping into the throwing cage. I had to go inside to warm up as after 10 minutes outside I couldn't feel my hands and I was shaking. I reckon it's the first time I have seriously considered pulling out of a competition due to the weather. I warmed up for an hour so decided to give it a go, then right on cue as soon as I got outside it started raining, rain that turned into hail when it was my turn to throw. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the worst conditions I've ever competed in, and I've competed in some shocking weather during my career. I managed 26.88m, which is far from what I wanted at my home stadium, but it was very much one to forget. It was a shame because I felt good physically, this picture from the day shows a little bit of what I had to fight against.

Now I look forward to competing this weekend at Stoke Mandeville, and getting a good mark on the board. Everyone is going bonkers for the Olympics and Paralympics right now, and though it is exciting, my focus is firmly on the European Championships in June. I was selected upon returning from Portugal, it will be my 46th GB appearance. It wasn't compulsory to go for the Europeans but it's at a good time and will be a good test before London, it'll likely be my last competition. I'm also European champion from the last championships back in 2005, so with me being the competitor I am, I naturally want to defend my title.

Lastly, here's some shameless name-dropping, I spoke and presented awards at Newcastle College's diversity celebration evening - NUFC's Papiss Cisse, Sammy Ameobi and Haris Vukic helped me out with the awards. Very nice lads.

Eleni Papadopoulos

Eleni Papadopoulos

May blog

The Paralympic trials were a complete mixture of highs and lows. I won the 100m Butterfly in a new British Record time at the British Championships but sadly this was not enough to make the qualifying time which would have guaranteed me a place on the team. There was still some hope that I may have achieved a slot for the medley relay place but on the 10th of April when the first team list was announced I had not been selected. This, of course, was a difficult experience for me to handle. I swam so well at both of the two selection trials, with new personal bests and British Records, but it simply wasn't good enough for the team. However, after a few good cries with my mum, my friends and my coach, I have managed to get over this slight 'hiccup' and I am back into full training for the summer nationals.

A second team list may be announced on the 6th of June when the International Paralympic Committee have officially confirmed how many slots will be available for Britain but it is fairly slim that anyone else shall be added to the current team. With this in mind I have created a new training programme with my coach which will lead me up to April 2013 for the World Short Course Trials. Even though I did not get selected I have remained as positive as I can by considering that I swam new Personal Bests in every single race and the times which I posted at the two trials have placed me in the top eight in the world in two events: the 100m Fly and the 200m I.M. I am also now ranked in the top 12 in the world for the 400m Freestyle and the 100m Backstroke. These international rankings are far higher than what I was placed last year, previous to my back injury, and therefore it is hard to make faults with my performance at the trials. I raced as well as I possibly could and made massive improvements with my times but it was difficult to accept that even though I had swam so well, my best just wasn't good enough this time round.

That doesn't mean that my best effort will not be good enough next time though. I am fully determined to bounce back from this situation and ensure that this time next year I will be on that team list for the World Championships. I have done it before in 2009 and 2010 and I most certainly will do it again. I now have the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio firmly in my sights and I really don't want the fact that I didn't make the 2012 team to affect just how much I love to swim. My love for swimming is definitely the reason why I always bounce back no matter how injured I am or what team I don't manage to make. I'm determined to make a comeback onto the international stage and to never again experience that feeling when the first team list was published a few weeks ago.

Even though the swimming season continues for another four months, I have just finished my second year of university. Every last bit of coursework has been handed in and I have four exams coming up over the next few weeks but other than that I am officially on my summer break although I do actually need to do some research for my dissertation during it! It's quite scary to think that I will be going into my third year so very soon and it really doesn't feel as though I left home two years ago. I had always considered a degree in law but my careers advisor said that it would be better to have a background in another subject and to do a conversion so when I finish my third year this is what I will be doing. I will probably remain in Manchester for this rather than move back to Newcastle because it is a great place for my swimming as well as my studies.

I am fully focused on progressing further with my swimming and perhaps at the summer nationals I can move myself up the international rankings once again and push myself to make next year's team list.

John Robertson

John Robertson

April blog

Well after our long trip to the US last month we needed to get back into the gym and get 'MASSIVE' AND focus on fitness for the next month. We did have a few days at home and managed to catch up with friends and family and even had a birthday party for my 40th, quite something to actually have a party and see all of my family which mean so much to me and have helped over the last 16 years of Sailing campaigns....Big thanks to them all...

So after all of the jolly japes and even getting to see a Sunderland match at the Stadium of light courtesy of Coopers BMW who are one of my other sponsors (LUCKY CHAP I AM) It was time to head back to Portland and get fitness tested. This all sounds good and doesn't really take too long but after hammering away on the hand crank machine for about an hour till I burst and then having the pleasure of getting blood samples sucked out of me it does hurt the next day, I was even nearly a little bit sick so you can imagine it's a maximal effort but all well worth it.

With the scores for power and heart rate all collected by our Physiologist Dave Macutekwizc (lives in Gateshead when not down in Weymouth) he comes up will a full training plan for the whole next 6 weeks, this is great as it means we now have a fixed plan so we can programme our weeks accordingly so a week would look something like this:

Mon: CARDIO SESSION (STEADY STATE 70MINS)
Tues: WEIGHTS(HIGH REPS FOR ENDURANCE)
Wed: CARDIO SESSION(INTERVALS,10 ON 2 OFF REPEAT 6 TIMES)
Thurs: rest.
Fri: WEIGHT(AS ABOVE)
Sat: CARDIO(60 MIN STEADY STATE)
Sun: rest.

Within all of that we go sailing and fit in physio sessions and soft tissue massage and meetings with our nutritionist and psychologist so as you can imagine the day is like a 8am till 6pm and you just about have time to breath and do some shopping. The rest days are really important as that's when the body adapts and gets fitter so when an athlete has a day off its literally feet up and maybe bait of stretching and not a blast through a forest on your mountain bike??! So that means when we get to our next event and ultimately the Paralympics in September we WILL be fitter and more able to give a better performance for longer, a bit like 'Duracell bunny'......!

It's not all graft though like I said, we do like having trips out and our most exciting one this month was going on Sunday drive to a very pretty village along the coast called Abbotsbury for a wander around the tropical gardens and then a very tasty afternoon tea just like your Nan used to make, like I said it's all 'ROCKSTAR' down here! Saying that it's really good to go out with the guys and chill out properly otherwise it would be vegging on the sofa watching repeats of 'HOW ITS MADE', very exciting.

Well you wouldn't believe it but I'm writing this sitting in the Holiday Inn at Stansted Airport to whizz down to the South of France for our next event, it's part of the ISAF World Cup Series and is in Hyeres just outside Toulon, it's very exciting to be now doing an event after all of our training in the gym and on the water just to see how much we have come on and what we need to work on next. So wish us luck and follow our results online on 'Sailing.org' and look for the 'World Cup Series'.

In my best French......Arevouis mon chum, je voudrais un fromage sil vous plais? (In an 'Allo Allo' accent of course)

Love,

John.

John Robertson

John Robertson

February blog

Training, training, training...

We are very lucky to be out here with our best Boats, best sails and kit so we can make the most of these fantastic conditions. We have been doing long days on the water maybe 4 hours of continuous tuning runs where we line up the 2 boats next to each other and do tuning runs beating up into the wind for literally miles and miles trying to outdo each other and go as fast as possible, after one run we stop and come back down to the starting point and have a chat while we return to see who we thought was quicker, who we thought could change something etc etc... During all of these runs we have our coach Mark going between the boats on a RIB looking to see if he can see any differences which can be very, very small but nevertheless its vital we log everything so we can analyse later for our records.

While we spend most of the day on the water we also have to keep the gym work going which can be very tiring if it had been windy the day before, as you can guess by the time we have done 6/7 days of sailing and gyming we need a day or 2 to rest otherwise tiredness creeps in and the training becomes less effective......So on that note it was my 40th Birthday out in Miami and I know you're thinking 'there's no way John can be 40 he looks at least 38...ha ha' but it was a great opportunity for Hannah to do some more organising and sort out a special day for the team.

Well what can I say, we boarded the car and headed out of Miami on a bit of a mystery tour and ended up in the 'everglades national park' and if you remember 'Gentle Ben' from years ago they had an airboat and yes we were going out on a massive airboat to search for 'Gaiters'. While sadly we didn't see any on the ride as it was too chilly for them.....Ah bless! They had some that had been rescued and proceeded to show the crowd how not to play with reptiles...!! Well after being scared by various wildlife it was time to clean up and head out for a glamorous dinner with the guys and that ended my Birthday off perfectly, thanks guys.

Well as they say it's never over till you're on the plane home so the next day it was back onto the grindstone and keep sailing. Unfortunately for me by the end of that week the whole trip had started to take its toll a wee bit and I was feeling a little unwell and struggling with the sailing and generally being a little run down so we decided I would take a couple of days off to make the most of the last few days which were soon approaching, well after being away for 8 weeks and sailing and racing for just about all of it we had done hours and hours of tuning and practice and found it to be one of the most productive we have ever done so were very happy if a little tired and ready to head home for the snow and frost.

Well we can't head home without our boats and kit and other assorted gear so we had a 5 hour container load to do and also make sure the girls were snuggly packed in so they didn't move during the 2 week voyage across the Ocean. Job done and then time to pack our bags and grab a hire car to drive up to Tampa airport, which in itself was a mini adventure with a speeding ticket for one of our training crew and a nice drive across Florida via a outlet mall(shopping for the girls) and then home at last.

When I arrived home it is the best feeling to know we had worked very hard and made the best of our time out there so time to rest and recharge the batteries and then head off back to Weymouth and Portland and get back on the treadmill off training before our next event in Hyeres in the south of France... Wish us luck!

John.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

January blog

Happy New Year! Sorry it's a bit late but I was so busy in January that I never got a chance to blog properly - I know you will all be very happy that I have finally got the chance to write down a few hundred words in an order that might mildly entertain you for a few minutes or so.

January is normally quite a downer month after all the excitement of Christmas and New Year, you look forward to starting afresh with renewed vigour and enthusiasm, only to find that things pretty much carry on as they left off. However, it is now the year! 2012! When I go for Paralympic gold and the world ends - what's not to get excited about? To be honest I'm trying not to think about it too much at the moment (the Paralympics) but it's difficult when everybody is talking about it so much.

Hard to believe that a year ago I was just returning from New Zealand licking my wounds from a courageous but admittedly ordinary performance at the world championships, and also gutted that NUFC sold Andy Carroll to Liverpool - how things change in a year *chuckles*. I haven't had too many new year blues, mainly because my training has stepped up a gear and I am no longer solely concentrating on flogging myself to death with gruelling circuits. At this point I like to do my 'circuits are over dance'. However I should know better by now, and instead of getting easier, the sessions in January have been some of the hardest I have ever done. It's testament to the work I did from October to December that I am able to do some of the things I'm doing now, I have surprised myself at my progress in certain areas, particularly my right leg. As you can see from the picture with my physiotherapist Penny we are having to find intuitive ways to add more resistance for my single leg press.

I think the highlight of January has to be doing a onesie session at the Unit Gym with Tom Clay (pictured, me-monkey, Tom-tiger). To sort of explain, I got a onesie from the missus for Christmas and I knew Tom had several onesies. Logic said to me that it would be an epic-win to do a gym session in our onesies. It didn't take much to persuade Tom, who came up with a horror of a session for the occasion - I can tell you an hour of rope slinging, TRX and chin-ups in a onesie isn't fun. It was all filmed on my video diary camcorder, for a sneak preview and other videos visit my youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/hailfabio

This week Sainsbury's and Channel4 screened their latest short films to promote the Paralympic Games. I travelled down to London for a preview screening at Channel4 HQ, they have done 10 films which are kind of sequels to the films released last year. All 10 films are brilliant with loads of powerful images and messages that encapsulate what the Paralympics is all about in each of their 90 seconds. I was actually in my local social club the Bene when my film was screened on Channel4 - I wasn't supposed to be there, but our bus broke down on the way to Blackburn for the NUFC match. Long story, but we ended up watching the match in the Bene and they put Channel4 on just before kick off to watch the film, I got a standing ovation and the Toon won so it was a great night in the end.

Late last year I help to open a refurbished Wilkinson's store in Killingworth. They kindly donated £300 towards my training and competition costs and £200 to the Sunshine Fund charity. Here is a nice picture of the opening.

Till next time ... keep ahead.

Eleni Papadopoulos

Eleni Papadopoulos

January blog

It was really great to meet some of you again at your annual Christmas conference in December. I wish I could have stayed longer but with having to travel to Swansea the very next day for a competition I needed to get some rest, and it's a good thing I did! Horrendous weather conditions and a three-hour grid-lock at Wetherby meant it took us an exhausting nine hours to get there! Nonetheless, I achieved 4 season best times and I also won the 100m butterfly. Winning the 100m butterfly was amazing because I beat the swimmers who won gold and silver in this event at nationals, where I won bronze.

That really was a great way to end 2011. However, my Christmas celebrations were short lived; only being allowed four days at home before heading back to Manchester on Boxing Day to fly out to Tenerife for a two-week training camp with my club. Maintaining training over the Christmas period is essential for keeping fitness levels high, especially with the Trials being so early this year: the first week of March. Indeed my only session off during this training camp was on the morning of New Year's Day but in the afternoon we were back to the pool.

Nonetheless the hard work is definitely paying off. I competed at the 'Zonal' Meet at the end of January where I achieved four new personal bests and one new season best. My swim in the 100m Butterfly was actually under the British Record (Which I and no one else, has broken since March 2009). However, the timing system failed and the referees were unable to allow the record to stand in this circumstance. However, just knowing that I broke the record is good enough for me because it is still a great indicator about how well I have improved since last year and it has motivated me to go even quicker at the first trials in March.

There are roughly four weeks to go until we leave for the Trials in London and it is clear that some of my teammate's nerves are increasing. Of course it is good to have some nerves but I am very grateful that I have my university work to keep me otherwise occupied. This does not mean that I am not 100% focused on the trials, but I often find that it is very easy to become too overly focused which causes too many nerves because you seem to add more pressure on yourself. It is difficult to find the balance between being focused, and being too focused which can lead to psyching yourself out before the race. This happened to me at my very first trials in 2008 when I was only 15 but I have learnt from that experience of being overly-focused and it helped me to develop mentally for the subsequent trials.

This will definitely be the hardest competition I will ever attempt to qualify for. Of course, being the Paralympics it is bound to be harder but, the fact that, unlike for the European and World Championships where Britain can take as many competitors as they see fit, there is a limited amount of places for the Paralympics and we will not find out how many places will be available until June. Initially, we have sixteen places and it is likely that the International Paralympic Committee will distribute more but whether they do or they don't still means that we are not guaranteed places even if we achieve a qualifying time. It's definitely a tough one, but hopefully all my hard work will pay off in the next four weeks!

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

December blog

This winter I've been getting on with training quite happily. When I say happily, I obviously mean whinging like hell after every brutal session, mostly to Rachel, who gives back minimal sympathy.

I'm very much looking forward to the New Year, when I'll start throwing my big balls around - medicine balls, in case you were wondering. By spring I'll be starting to try and remember how to throw again.

There's been plenty of discussion recently around a Scope survey suggesting only 18% of disabled people are excited about the Paralympics and 65% think they should be combined with the Olympics.

I'm not one to shy away from an opinion, so here it is.

First, the survey sample was very small and can't representative of all disabled people in the country. I'm pretty confident most disabled people, especially young ones, are excited and inspired by the Paralympics. In my experience watching someone with similar impairments doing things you might not think possible creates a great connection and renews belief.

As for combining the two, I'm completely against it. The beauty of the Paralympics is it caters for a massive range of disabilities, allowing fair competition between people with a similar impairment, who can't compete with able-bodied athletes, certainly not to Olympic standard. (The latter part is a bit fuzzy at the moment, especially with what Oscar Pistorious is achieving in sport.)

Should you be able to compete at both Olympics and Paralympics? I don't really agree with it. Any integration would result in exclusive disability events/sports/athletes being chosen, and that would massively harm disability sport.

The IPC are already cutting events and classes in the Paralympics to make it more accessible, but there's a danger that we start to lose what makes it uniquely great. We don't want the Paralympics to become the Olympic B event. It should be the pinnacle of any disabled athlete's career, which is why I believe if a disabled athlete can compete at the Olympics, they shouldn't need to compete at the Paralympics.

For me there is something awe-inspiring about watching guys who would struggle to make a cup of tea or tie their shoe laces throw a club over 25 and 30 metres. In the Paralympics there are endless events like this that make it so special to watch. Combining it with the Olympics would dramatically water this down.

What we need to say is, to watch Paralympic sport you might need to do a bit of homework, but then you will enjoy watching it. I think that's pretty true of any sport.

I was back at Remploy recently to unveil a plaque marking the opening of their new Newcastle showroom. I also helped to launch their baton relay, which tied in with the International Day of Disabled People on 3 December. The idea is to spread positive stories about disabled people and the great things they've achieved.

To find out more and get involved go to http://www.facebook.com/Remploy.

That's all from me. Next time you hear from me we'll be in the year 2012 - OMG!

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

November blog

It's coming up to nine months until the Paralympic Games. Nine months that will go very quick. In a weird way it's like I've become pregnant and I'm going to give birth to an awesome performance in nine months. I'm already getting cravings - mainly for digestive biscuits.

This year we have changed lots about my training. It's taken a while to sink into my skull, but I've finally accepted I can't do everything on my own and I need more help than I used to, to get the most out of my body. For about two years I'd been doing my own strength and conditioning and had become stale. I was still working as hard as I always do but just not progressing.

I am now working one-to-one with Gary Nash and Tom Clay at the Unit Gym in Newcastle. It's absolutely not a poncey gym (apart from when Tom has his Glee music on…). I'm feeling the benefits already. Gary makes me do things I wouldn't make myself do. Even for someone as motivated as me, there's a point where you need that extra push, and he is certainly pushing me. Every session is a challenge and a war, which is what I've missed in my gym sessions since UKA stopped my S&C support. I'm very grateful to Gary for his help and I'm sure it's going to have a massive impact on my performances next year.

I've been overwhelmed by the number of people who've told me they've got tickets to watch me compete next year. It gives me even more motivation to be the best prepared I can be. I've been very frustrated the last couple of years that things haven't always gone how I'd have liked, but this is a fresh start.

When I started at the Paralympics you virtually had to drag people to the stadium. Now people are paying good money for tickets and some sports are selling out. It's a massive progression. I, for one, want to put on the best show possible. I know in my mind I am the defending champion from Beijing. What happened there was wrong but it's now accepted, and I go into London looking to defend my title and undefeated record with honour, pride and bravery.

The Man versus Hip battle is going well, it has been botoxed and cortisoned and is behaving a lot better.

John Robertson

John Robertson

November blog

Hi all. That was the hottest November since records began - a nice warm up for coming out to St Petersburg (the one in Florida, not Russia).

To check we were heading in the right direction with our new gym programmes, we have a fitness test every few months. So a few weeks back we were all strapped to a machine (static hand bike for me) and beasted until we blew up!

We start at a steady pace and take a resting blood lactate (acid in the blood, which indicates work load). Then the work really starts. We do four to five stages, starting very gently. Every four minutes we take another lactate and move up to the next loading level. And repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, until we reach our maximal lactate numbers (or until you are sick!).

Next up is the maximal power test, which is another four minute block, but you go as hard as you can, for as long as you can, to gauge your max power output. This is where you end up panting like a 20-year-old labrador and wondering which way is up.

Adrian reported we'd all made great gains and the numbers were moving in the right direction, fitness wise. If we can make those gains in such a short period we should be even fitter by the time the games come around. Yippee.

The weekend before, I'd managed to get a ticket for the Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi. The race weekend was spectacular with Lewis winning and Vettle getting that puncture on the first lap (very sad…;). My seat was at turn seven and was amazing. You can't imagine what the noise was like! The flight back to the UK and the drive back to Portland was a bit of a shock after all of that glamour and heat.

We have made it to Florida for the first part of our winter training and it's going very well. We've done five races on the first day of the Americas regatta in St Pete, with the race officer getting as many races in as possible. This is amazing practice for us before the Worlds in January down in Port Charlotte. Follow the scores:

Must dash, as we have a 10am start. By the way, its only 75 degrees today so quite chilly, BRRRRR.

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

October blog

I've been on holiday from sport for four weeks, and back from visiting Tenerife with Rachel. I got back in the early hours and left the next day for Northumberland Sport's SportsAbility event, where I met Mascot Mandeville and lots of enthusiastic kids doing Paralympic sports.

I had some great news that, through Sainsbury's and the Caravan Charity, I was chosen to receive a special award of £2000 for my willingness and openness to support Sainsbury's.

Other exciting developments are my retention on the World Class Performance Programme for 2011/2012. Also, Grainger PLC renewed their contract with me, which is a massive boost. I must also give special thanks to Easibathe who have fitted our bungalow with little ramps.

I'm really proud I managed to have four weeks off training. I needed it, though, as I haven't had a proper break since 2009. This was my first week back and I'm starting to feel like my normal self again. It sounds stupid but my body is so used to being battered every day that when I stop, it seizes up and shuts down.

I'm excited about the next six months. It's my first proper winter's training since late 2009. It's when I come alive and I know how important it is to get this part right if I want to achieve my goals next year.

Of course this training year has added significance with the London 2012 target. It's surreal to think I've started preparing for the competition that has been in the back of my mind for six years and which convinced me to keep going in 2009 and not have a hip replacement.

This next 10 months or so is all about man versus hip, and you know I love a challenge. My hip has steadily deteriorated so it's now pretty much locked at a 90 degree and I can't put any weight through it. I take enough pain tablets to rattle. However when I think I've reached the most painful it can get, my hip keeps finding new levels.

The hip has probably got the better of me over the last year but I have a new resolve to meet it head on, knowing this is the last leg of the journey. I don't regret the decision not to have the operation. I think it was the only way I could compete in London and be fully prepared.

There have been times I thought I might not make it, particularly in the last year. But I know I can get myself in top shape for next year and make sure the hip holds me back as little as possible.

Let battle commence.

John Robertson

John Robertson

28 October blog

Well, as they say in sport, you have to put the hours in, and that's what we've been doing all month. With all the racing we've been doing, our fitness and conditioning has been taking a hit. So, after a quick fitness test by our physiologist Ade Campbell, we found we had a chance to make some really good fitness gains over the winter.

All of this involved planning each week to include a mix of sailing, weights, aerobic, core, physio, stretching, yoga, tea making, cleaning (boats/house/ourselves), oh, and packing containers (I'll get to that later.)

So, now we have a plan, as Baldric said.

We planned to hit it really hard. Knowing we're going to be sailing at the same time as doing all the other stuff, we knew it was going to be tough. And so it proved. We did the first week gradually. Then by the end of the week we were getting pretty tired, especially as it's been the windiest October for a while.

With the pattern set and the workouts streamlined, it's been a matter of 'manning up' and getting on with it. Fortunately our bodies can remember what real hard training is like and soon enough you feel the body changing and adapting. The only other issue is you have to rest properly and get to bed after dinner, rather than watching Downton Abbey or X-Factor (the 'crazy' one is the best, btw).

Now we have the next few months to plan for, with our World Championships in Port Charlotte, Florida, in the New Year. So we had to pack a container with two of our boats. This all sounds fine until you realise the box is 40ft long and our ships are 23ft long each. So, yeah, slight issues with squeezing the babies in. But after six hours at a nice industrial estate, we managed to get the doors closed and send off the box to the States, via Kent, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, etc. Fingers crossed US Customs don't keep the container like they usually do!

Nearly time for beds, and I'm dreaming of my first holiday in four years. Next week I'm off to Abu Dhabi for the F1 race, so its four days in the desert for me and trying to get Jenson's autograph.

John Robertson

John Robertson

4 October blog

A very exciting month has come to an end. After we named the new ship in the Olympic park last month we needed to get her fettled and get her bum wet for the first time. Perfectly, for us, there was an event in Medembli, in the Netherlands, to put her through her paces. We spent a fair bit of time beforehand getting her fitted out and making sure everything was in place.

We set off for Harwich with myself and Steve in my car, and Hannah pulling 'Mandy'. We arrived to a typical Dutch autumn scene of cold and wind, but hee-hoo the coffee is greeeattt (Dutch accent).

You can't believe the amount of time you put into getting boats fitted out, and you still have to move bits and bobs to make it all work properly, but, hey, that's boats for you.

After sprinkling her with a bit of champers we were quite happy on the first day, but there was still a lot of work and fine-tuning to be done. It's great to race a new ship out of the box and seeing how she performs against the fast guys. That way we know where we are, rather than spending hours fiddling at home and waiting to race her properly.

With only a year to go we've spent quite a lot of time sailing, so our gym and fitness has taken a slight backward step. To resolve this we met with the Sports Science team and formulated a master plan to get us Olympic-fit by the games. Trust me, a year is nothing in gym terms and we need to push really hard over the winter months. So, it's deep breath and get ready for crashing into bed at 9pm after very long days. We've already started to ramp things up and are seeing improvements already, so it's looking good!

With all the training, it's massively important to rest in the right way. It's all about refuelling at the right time with the right fuel and taking the correct supplements to make sure you don't pick up bugs, etc. Without good old iPhone apps, we'd be lost in a sea of notebooks and menus, but now you can sync everything together on one machine, which is great!

I must dash as the gym is calling and the Sports science team is awaiting!

John Robertson

John Robertson

September blog

This month we headed to the Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club in Rhu, just outside Dumbarton, for our Open World and European Championships. We don't often sail our type of boat (Sonar) with four people and an extra sail (called a spinnaker) as our Paralympic rules limit us to three crew, the mainsail and the jib.

It's a great opportunity to test our speed and tactics against able-bodied guys as they generally have more weight on the side of the boat and therefore more power, which equals faster!

For the first event we had our Coach Mark Rushall on board. Although he's not 100kg, his technical knowledge is awesome and it's a great chance for him to give us immediate evaluations and feedback. We did ok in the Euros, finishing 6th and 2nd in the UK nationals.

The hospitality in Scotland was fantastic, as always, and the visiting crews maxed out on the whiskey tasting. Then we rolled straight into the Worlds, with a good solid start, ending up top four by midweek.

You know by now sailing is a fickle sport and the weather plays a massive part. True to form we were punished a bit on the Thursday when we had three highish scores. When you have boats firing all over the loch and putting spinnakers up, while going upwind (a spinnaker is a downwind sail) we knew it was going to be a bit funky! In the end we went from 2nd to 4th with no racing on the last day due to lack of wind (there's a pattern forming here!)

It was a great event for us to try different things against the best guys and take those lessons learnt back to our Paralympic fleet.

The other great news is our new ship has been named at a ceremony overlooking the Olympic stadium at Stratford. She has been named 'Mandeville' after the 2012 Paralympic mascot and the Stoke Mandeville hospital, where the first Paralympics took place in 1947.

We had a tour of the Olympic park (very impressive it is too). It was quite a feeling, I can assure you, as we will be at that very stadium in 360 days at the opening ceremony. Ooh, it sends a tingle up our spines!

Well, it's now back to Weymouth and Portland for training. And it's blowing dogs off chains, again. 30Knots and chilly, so time for tea and toasties and lots of meetings and boat work instead!

Eleni Papadopoulos

Eleni Papadopoulos

Autumn blog

It's the start of a new swimming season and I couldn't wait to get back to hard training for the Paralympic Trials in March and April.

There's no time to waste, meaning plenty of time in the gym and even more in the pool. It demands a great deal of balancing with my university work. Fitting everything in can be extremely tough, but I have a great support network. After a slightly disappointing season last year, I feel I've never trained better than now. The times I'm producing seem to be getting faster and I've made huge leaps with my starts, turns and even breast stroke (which was my weakest stroke!). Perhaps being injured this year made me see what was important. I am now completely focused on doing everything I can to enhance my chances of qualifying for London 2012.

The March and April trials are the earliest for any Paralympic Games. This means training has to be harder as we need to 'taper' even earlier in the year. I'll be one of the first to race in the Olympic Pool as one of my events is the first on the first day! It feels such a privilege to swim in this pool before the Games and hopefully I'll be able to compete there again in another five months.

Sadly, I won't be attending Grainger's Christmas Conference on 15 December, but will make the dinner. Which is great, as a swimmer needs to eat! I'll then travel to Swansea for a compulsory competition - one of many over the next five weeks.

On Boxing Day I'll fly to Tenerife with the City of Manchester Aquatics for 12 days. This camp is essential to ensure we don't lose any fitness over the Christmas period and possibly to monitor how much Christmas pud we've eaten!

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

August blog

The 2011 athletics season is done and dusted. I'm not going to dress it up, this year has been my toughest and performance wise it was one of my worst as a senior athlete. However, after months of toil and soul searching, the season ended very positively.

I recently returned from a UKA camp in Portugal. I took my new, modified throwing frame, which Tharsus did a great job on and it made an instant difference. Technically I improved every session and the last was the best I've thrown in well over a year.

On my return I had one night at home with my lovely neglected fiancé, then it was off to the National Championships in Nottingham. Here I threw a season's best, 31.29m, to become national champion yet again.

I had two aims for this season - to throw at least the same distance as my age and beat my distance in the world championships in New Zealand. I finally did that, the latter by 4cm, but progress is progress.

The biggest positive I take from having such a bad season, in my eyes, is my bronze medal from the World Championships and being ranked 4th in the world (2nd in my own class).

Performances this season hurt me deeply, particularly in Wigan and Cardiff where I threw my worst distances for 10 years. After that I was guilty of chasing competitions. My coach has the patience of a saint as I am a nightmare to coach because I think I know so much. I have to be convinced to change any aspect of my training. That can be the sign of a good athlete, but I take it too far at times.

This year I have done hardly any work on my legs because of my hip being so sore. I got away with it until about June when my performances dropped away dramatically. My coach would say to me that I was turning into a ball because my legs were getting tighter and my shoulders rounder. I guess I turned into the kind of athlete I slate, who thinks by doing the same things they can improve.

It took an embarrassing performance at the UKA Challenge at Stoke Manderville to change my mindset. After months of doom and gloom and wondering if my career might be over, I finally started listening to my coach. I started working with a person trainer, Gary Nash at the Unit gym. He is going to work one to one with me up to London. I also stepped up my Pilates programme with my brilliant physio Penny. It's a bit girly and seems like it should be dead easy but it is some of the hardest training I've ever done.

Right, I'll Speak to you again when winter training starts in a few weeks.

Above are some pretty awesome pictures of the training camp in Portugal, and of my new frame made by Tharsus.

John Robertson

John Robertson

August blog

Newflash......

Well, all the work in the last few years has paid off and we've been selected for London 2012. WOW. Amazing to be selected this far out, and it gives us so much more confidence going into the next 12 months.

We finished 2nd at our World Championships and won the Sail4Gold regatta back in June so these were our selection events. It seems the selection committee were very happy and nominated us to ParalympicsGB who then give us the nod to be put on the big list for next year. It's always a bit of a 'hold your breath' moment, but the tension was worth it. Hopefully we can now focus on September next year. The mindset changes quite a lot and frees us up to push even harder in training.

With the Olympic test event going on right now, we have time to have a break and get some great training in before we head up to Scotland next week for our Open Worlds, where we'l; sail against our able-bodied counterparts. We also use Spinnaker which means we need another crew member. Stepping in for one practice event is our coach Mark Rushall. Then in the Worlds for real, we have managed to get Mark Andrews who is Ben Ainslie's training crew from the Olympic Finn class. He's about 6'5" and 100kg, so is perfect for the job.

So, fingers crossed for Helensburgh and pack the mozzy spray for Scotland in the summer. What to wear? Who knows, so we are taking everything!

John Robertson

John Robertson

July blog

Wow, what a month! We've been training hard, with all our focus on the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta and the IFDS (International association of Disabled Sailing) World Champs. Both are selection events for London 2012.

The Sail 4 Gold, one of the Sailing World Cup events had us pretty much leading from start to finish, ticking our first box for nomination for next year.

We were full of confidence running into the IFDS World Championship, having won it twice before. We started really well and got to the top of the leader board. Then we were protested by an American team for a non incident, so had to take a hit and were disqualified from that race. We dropped from 1st to 4th, but were still very tight on points!

We scored a 1st in the next race, putting us within a few points of the lead. We then ended the second last day with a nice seven point lead.

At dinner we found out the Israeli boat had been over the line early in one of the day's races and used video evidence to get reinstated. We were confused as to how this evidence was allowed, as the rules say you are not allowed any electronic devices on the boat other than an electronic compass. It meant it was all on for the final day with them now having a four point lead over us.

When you really, really need to go sailing the weather Gods don't always want to play. Racing was cancelled due to the winds, which meant we won a Silver medal for the 2nd year running, losing out on the Gold due to protests.

Unfortunately that's just sailing. We knew we had sailed really well and become really strong as a team. Our selectors are very happy with our progress and should get back to us soon with a decision as to whether we are nominated for London 2012. Fingers crossed!

It's off to the gym for me now to see about some treatment for some seriously aching limbs!

Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller

July blog

Busy times. I competed five times last month and was left physically and mentally knackered. I also finally left home after 31 years and moved in with my lass, Rach. It was a very big step for both of us and we are settling into life together nicely. I am banned from the kitchen and Rach is banned from the TV remote.

I still can't believe how much everything costs. Thankfully Grainger have kindly offered to re-lay our drive for free, which is a great gesture and I'm very humbled. They've supported me fantastically this year.

July was a tough month and the wheels started to come off a bit in terms of performance. I threw fairly well into a strong wind at Bedford to win the English championships, but I had pretty dismal performances at Hexham and at the UKA Challenge in Stoke Mandeville.

I lost to Thomas Green at Stoke, who I've known since he was a young boy. I've always known he has the potential to be a top athlete and he has a great future ahead. The whole competition was very good, and it was heartening to see so much strength and depth in British club throwing.

I was disappointed. I'm a competitive animal and always go out to win so it obviously hurt. The performance hurt most because I was well under par in good conditions for club throwing. It was the end of a frustrating time for me. I threw 28 metres in four consecutive competitions and we know that's not me in any conditions.

In hindsight I realise I did too many competitions this summer but I've felt under pressure to meet certain performance conditions. In the end I was left extremely fatigued mentally and probably lost a lot of conditioning. But you move on and learn.

My next competition is at my very own Gateshead Stadium on 27 August. It will be a very poignant day as it will be exactly one year to the Paralympic games opening ceremony. A few nice sexy throws would be the perfect way to celebrate a year to go.

Eleni Papadopoulos

Eleni Papadopoulos

Summer blog

After a long 12 months, I've reached the end of my swimming season - and on quite a high too.

The high point was the ASA National Championships in July. Having been unable to compete for the majority of the season due to injuries, everything I'd been training for rested on this competition.

I won bronze in the 100m butterfly, in a season best time, and placed top five in three other finals. A great achievement. My City of Manchester Aquatics teammates also swam fantastically and we won the 'National Top Female Club' and the 'National Top Overall Swimming Club' for 2011. I felt so privileged when they wanted me to go onto the podium and collect the pennants.

This was definitely the best way to finish my swimming season. But that wasn't all - I also passed my first year of university. So I'm now taking a well-deserved rest for two weeks.

However, the rest will be short as training starts again on 15 August in preparation for the London 2012 trials in March.

Everything I do from today needs to be focused on the trials. There will be no opportunity to miss training and obviously I need to keep injury free! I still suffer from my prolapsed disc in my lower back but it seems to have settled down. Hopefully now I can focus on getting my fitness and swimming back on track. I won't be competing for another three months, so I'll be able to see how I may have improved from this year's Nationals.

And then it's also back to university in September. No rest for the wicked, as they say! I will definitely be busy with my training and studies - but nothing comes easy and it will definitely be worth it in the end.

John Robertson

John Robertson

June blog

We're at the first selection stage for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Skandia Sail for Gold regatta starts this week in Weymouth and Portland, and runs until Friday. A good result here could help us get on that road!

We had some more fantastic training in the last few weeks. As is always the way with sailing we lost a day to too much wind, but the rest were superb.

The new sails were tested and looking nice, the boat was polished and rigs were rigged. We always have work to do and this time it was getting our branded clothing ready for the ever present cameras!

Lots of gym work in the last month, which has been great as we all had a few niggles that needed attention. The physio and massage sessions were not the nice Spa type but the painful 'this will make you feel better' type (oh the joys). So we are all fully fit and ready to show the rest of the World what we're made of at our home venue.

We had some sad new last week that our coach Mark Rushall lost his father Ken in a cycling accident (participating in a time trial, aged 82). We look forward to his return for a few days this week hopefully. It's a good reminder for the whole team that there is more to life than sailing, and to live your life to the max, every day!

Other fantastic news is that BMW have sponsored the team with Coopers BMW Sunderland and Coopers Colchester, providing myself and Hannah with cars until 2012. Come on, BMW Cardiff, do one for Steve - you know you want to!

Well, cross everything and wish us luck for this week and I'll let you know how we get on next time. Thanks again for your continued support.

Grainger Centenary Film