guest post from Stephen Miller
It was a very long time ago that I started doing sport. Mobile phones were the size of bricks and the internet made a strange noise when you tried to connect to it. It was just 89 days past my 16th birthday when I competed in my first Paralympics at Atlanta in 1996. I found out my GCSE results a few days before my competition. Thankfully it was good news and I had done pretty well.
Back then, my sport was very much amateur with little to no financial support or reward for sporting success. The Paralympics wasn’t the huge commercial event it is today, with minimal media coverage and while athletes trained hard and performed to extremely high levels, it was very much a labour of love and Paralympians made a living outside of their sporting endeavours.
At the age of 16 I was Paralympic Champion but my focus was firmly on my education as I never envisaged that I would make a living from doing sport.
I completed my A-Levels in the run up to the 1998 World Championships, was in the middle of my work placement gap year at University when I competed at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 and I graduated just before the 2002 World Championships – flying out to be with the team the day after my graduation ceremony.
By this point, the World Class Programme had been around a few years and I was receiving some financial support to help with training and competition costs. It wasn’t enough to make a living off or to class myself as a professional athlete, but it was welcome relief for my parents who had pretty much funded my sporting participation to that point. I worked part time as a web developer from graduating from University, I worked in the NHS for 15 years before leaving in 2016 to focus on my work with a community interest company called SMILE Through Sport that I funded in 2013.
I’ve always had a dual career during my time as an athlete, by necessity at first and then because I enjoyed having another focus and a kind of security blanket away from athletics.
It was around 2006 when funding for Paralympic athletes was matched up with Olympic athletes and we started receiving a full APA (Athlete Performance Award), which provided financial support for both sporting and living costs. I’d been an athlete for 10 years and was now able to earn a living from my sport which was great. However, as is always the case, with reward comes more expectation and pressure.
Before World Class Performance, I competed for the love of it, to fulfil my ambitions and maximise my potential. To stay on the World Class Programme you have to hit targets and results every year which brings a whole host of stresses and anxieties to deal with as an athlete. This is why I’ve always pursued a dual career from being an amateur athlete through to becoming professional.
Having another career and focus away from athletics has helped me to alleviate some of the stresses and anxieties, as well as helping to maintain a sense of perspective.
I get to nurture my enjoyment of athletics and stay grateful for the opportunity to be a professional athlete.
As I face up to the prospect of retirement from sport – I haven’t set a date but now I’m 40 I’m starting to begrudgingly accept that I can’t go on forever – I’m hoping my experience of having a dual career will aid my transition. Though I’m under no illusion that when I do retire there will be a massive hole in my life that will need filling and it’s a scary thing to think about. The support for athletes is better than ever and I am making the most of performance lifestyle, using my PDA (Personal Development Allowance) and working with LAPS and other organisations such as BAC (British Athletes Commission) that can help athletes prepare for transition or start to build a dual career.
I’d say to athletes that it’s never too early to start preparing for your transition and there are many benefits to a dual career. Sport is competitive and unpredictable, things can change very quickly. The more you can prepare, the better and that can help you now as well as in the future.
Stephen’s charity SMILE Through Sport are running a campaign to donate £8 for their 8th year – https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/smilethroughsport
He’s also delivering online experiences through Airbnb’s platform, check it out here – arbnb.co.uk/thinkpositive
If you want to contact Stephen, he’s available at the links below
Facebook: Stephen Miller MBE
LAPS Members can discuss Stephen’s post on our Community page.