Australian Paralympic team member Torita Isaac.
Australian Paralympic team member Torita Isaac. PAUL MILLER

Torita Isaac: Fit and ready to fire in Rio

IT'S fair to say Torita Isaac is in much better shape and far better prepared entering her second Paralympics than her first.

Then just 17 and still at school, the sprinter had suffered 11 stress fractures in her legs during the lead-up to trials.

In pain, the Brisbane girl had battled on, contesting both the 100m and 200m in the T38 category for athletes with cerebral palsy, though she has the added disadvantage of having limited sight.

Isaac ultimately made the squad but was only down to run the 4x100m until just after arriving in London, when she was told she would also contest the individual events.

Amazingly she would make both finals - and finish seventh in each - with the promise of far bigger and better Games when physically and mentally ready to perform on the biggest stage.

Fast forward to 2016 and the time has come, with the 21-year-old among the favourites to win the coveted 400m Paralympics title.

"I am in shape to medal in Rio ... that is my aim," she tells Australian Regional Media.

"I can't control what the others in the race do but I know that I am ready to race well. I am injury-free this time, and extremely fit, so hopefully this pays off on the day."

 

Torita Isaac of Queensland running in the women's 400m at the IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Canberra in February.
Torita Isaac of Queensland running in the women's 400m at the IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Canberra in February. Tony Feder

 

After that "frustrating" lead-up to London, which stemmed from a poor, overworked training regimen, Isaac's build-up to Rio has been faultless under new coach Wayne Leaver, who she says "has developed me into an elite athlete".

Suffering from mild cerebral palsy on her right side, as well as vision impairment - she is blind in her right eye and has only 10% vision in her left - Isaac has been under Leaver's guidance since just after the 2013 world championships in Lyon, France, when she again made the finals of the 100m and 200m.

"I was spoken to by Tim Matthews from the APC (Australian Paralympic Committee), who told me that I needed to change things if I wanted to do more than make finals," she says.

"He (Leaver) has made a massive difference to my attitude and professionalism.

"I have worked hard with Wayne to strengthen my lower legs and build my loads so that it (the risk of injury) is no longer an issue for me.

"Wayne also trains with me as a training partner ... and does all my gym and pilates sessions with me. It helps me work to my limits each session."

While now focussing on the longer distances, the work has been paying off, with Isaac claiming bronze in the 400m at the 2015 world titles in Doha, and the world record no less in the 800m at the 2015 Queensland Club Championships.

Isaac, who competes against full-sighted rivals, said her performance was "amazing", "a real shock".

"We only did the event to prepare for the 400m. I have since lowered the time four more times, the last being two weeks ago where I reduced the time by around eight seconds," she says.

Whether in the 400m or the 800m it is some sort of feat when considering her lack of sight - racing can be "scary", she says, with her relying on the tiny bit of vision to keep track of where the lines are.

No fan of the brown tracks, she says the blue in Rio will help her cause.

 

Margarita Goncharova of Russia poses with her gold, Junfei Chen (left) of China silver and Torita Isaac (right) of Australia bronze after the women's 400m T38 final at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha last year.
Margarita Goncharova of Russia poses with her gold, Junfei Chen (left) of China silver and Torita Isaac (right) of Australia bronze after the women's 400m T38 final at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha last year. Francois Nel

 

While she is "disappointed" the 800m is not part of the T38 schedule at the Paralympics, she is determined to retrace the footsteps of her idol Cathy Freeman and win the 400m.

The 2000 Olympics gold medallist has inspired Isaac as both an athlete and fellow indigenous woman.

"She is such an icon and a role model," Isaac says.

"It is my dream to be able to meet her and talk to her about her career in athletics and how she dealt with the pressure."

From the Kamilaroi Aboriginal people in the Moree region of New South Wales, Isaac is now a role model herself as an ambassador for the Raise the Bar Academy and the Deadly Choices indigenous health program.

"I am just starting to realise how important my indigenous heritage is to me," she says.

"I am very proud of my heritage and hope to inspire indigenous youth to overcome obstacles that may exist in their lives and to strive to be the best person that they can be.

"Hopefully I can show them that nothing is impossible if you put your all into it.

"I want to continue to mentor and inspire athletes now and after my career ends.

"There are always ways to overcome issues. This has been a valuable lesson my coach Wayne has taught me. We work as a team and this helps me get through the hard grind of training as an elite athlete and the daily challenges that I face, which are both mental and physical.

"Supporting people are the key to success in anything."

Women's T38 400m heats, Wednesday morning (1am AEST)



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