The Big Interview: Isaac Towers

For many aspiring British Olympians or Paralympians, the next few weeks promise to be an anxious and nervous time.

Saturday, 2nd July 2016, 10:00 am
Wheelchair race ace Isaac Towers is hoping to win selection for the 2016 Olympic Games

With places up for grabs at this summer’s Games in Rio de Janeiro, selectors across all sports from Team GB will be busy finalising their squads.

Many have already received a boarding pass for the plane to Brazil – like Preston-born stars Samantha Murray, Graeme Thomas and Stephanie Slater.

But others are still yet to learn of their fate – such as Catterall’s T34 class wheelchair sensation Isaac Towers.

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The Cardinal Newman College student has got a great chance of competing in his first Paralympics, especially as he is ranked in the world’s top five for his particular classification.

And he has consistently proven over the past few years that he has the temperament for the big occasion.

Only a few weeks ago, he was celebrating winning the gold medal in the T34 800m at the IPC European Championships, in Grosseto, Italy.

But with competition for places among the Paralympians extremely high, there is a chance Towers may not get the nod for Rio.

While he is fiercely ambitious and determined to be in Brazil this summer, the Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde Athletics Club star will not be too downbeat if he fails to make the squad.

At just 17-years-old, Towers knows that time is certainly on his side.

Indeed, the wheelchair ace is taking the view that selection for Rio will be a bonus as he is well aware that he is still nowhere near his peak as a para-athlete.

It is likely that Towers – who has cerebral palsy – will be entering into his prime years in time for the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020 or even the one after that in 2024.

So no matter what happens this summer, the former King Edward VII and Queen Mary School pupil will have the bigger picture firmly in his mind.

But despite his measured outlook to his current situation, Towers admits it would be amazing to be lining up on the starting line and waiting to hear the sound of the gun fire inside the Nilton Santos Stadium this summer.

“The selection for Rio does not take place for another three weeks, so I will find out if I am going or not when they tell me then,” said Towers, who also attended St Michael’s-on-Wyre Church of England Primary School.

“It will be fantastic to get selected for Rio, but I am only 17 so I’m still at the younger end of things.

“Don’t get me wrong it will be great to go to Rio and I think I have got a good chance of being selected.

“But I am looking at the bigger picture.

“I am looking more towards Tokyo in 2020 when I will probably be moving more towards a prime age to start taking on the world.

“So we will see. Selection for the Rio Games will be a great experience for me as it will be my first Paralympics.

“It is the pinnacle of sport – particularly para-sport.

“Not everybody gets the chance to compete in one so obviously it will be fantastic to be named in the squad.”

Despite being a current European champion, Towers’ participation in Rio will depend on whether he is more of a medal prospect than other para-athletes from other classifications in the country.

It is the reason why he will continue to hit the race circuit over the next couple of weeks, trying to record personal best times so that the Team GB selectors simply cannot ignore his case.

“It will all come down to the selection criteria,” he said.

“It depends on what happens next in my class and also depends on what happens in other classes.

“There might be more people in other classifications who the selectors think have a better chance of winning a medal in Rio. The better I can do in my particular classification, gives me a better chance and strengthens my case for selection.

“The selection period is not over – it’s still open to put new times in.

“Potentially, I am looking at getting quicker and posting personal bests.

“I will be looking to compete in as many events as I can until the selection window closes.

“I would say my chances of going are 50/50 – I have got a good chance of competing and doing well in my class but there are many others in other classes who are also trying to get to Rio.

“The competition is very strong at home – as well as on the world stage.

“Hopefully it will all go well for me.”

If Towers were to win selection then he is confident that he would be in with a shout of a medal.

“If I was to go then I think I would have a good chance of winning a medal,” he said.

“I am near the top of the world rankings and they are a good judge of the sort of times people would be capable of doing in Rio.

“I am in there with a medal chance.

“But like I say I am looking at the bigger picture.

“The experience of just going to a Paralympics is going to be fantastic.

“It would be nice to medal, but everybody’s got an opportunity to win a medal. If I do that will be great but even if I don’t I know that I have got a few more years left in me.”

Towers competes at all distances from sprints on the track to road racing, although he admits he favours the middle-distance events such as the 800m and 1,500m.

“Obviously, I can do the long distances as well as the sprints such as the 100m and 200m,” he said.

“I have done 10km, half marathons in the open class.

“I am competitive in the longer distances and enjoy the road racing side of things.

“I would quite like to do at least one marathon in my career, but the 800m – that is the one I will be going for at the Paralympics.

“The middle-distances are what I have been doing throughout my life.

“It’s actually a little bit unusual to have the 800m at the Paralympics in my classification – in London four years ago, it was just the 100m and 200m.”

The man Towers – and everyone else – will have to beat at the Paralympics is Tunisia’s Walid Ktila – who won gold in both the 100m and 200m at the London Games four years ago.

He is a huge favourite to add to his glittering collection in Rio as he is competing in the sprint double as well as the 400m and 800m.

Towers also has competition from much closer to home in the shape of 20-year-old Ben Rowlings, who is from Coventry.

He picked up three bronze medals at the recent Euros in the 100m, 200m and just behind Towers in the 800m.

“Walid Ktila is likely to be the man everybody will be chasing in Rio,” Towers said.

“He won four gold medals at the World Championships, in Doha last year.

“I got to compete against him in Doha and I’ve raced against him and the others near the top of rankings quite a few times. I think I am ranked around fourth or fifth at the moment and the rankings give you a rough idea of the sort of times which will be being posted in Rio.

“There’s also Ben Rowling, who is somebody I have raced against a lot. We roughly started at the same time – he’s a little bit older than me.

“We are close rivals and we kind of push each other on to record quicker times.

“Obviously when we are on the track, we are there to beat each other and get good times.

“But away from the track, we are good friends.”

After being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Towers – who was shortlisted to win the 2013 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award – has shown enormous courage and determination to follow his dreams.

He has always been a keen sportsman and realised from a very early age that he could excel at wheelchair racing.

“Cerebral palsy affects all my limbs – primarily in my lower limbs and slightly in my upper arms.

“It limits the distance that I can walk. But I have been involved in sport from a very young age.

“I have been involved in wheelchair racing for about seven years – I started for the first time in 2009 and so I have been at it quite a few years even though I’m still at the young end of the scale.

“I think I just picked it up quite naturally. My coach Peter Wyman says I was actually quite quick to pick the technique up and I think that was down to all the sport that I had done previously.”

So far in his young career, Towers’ crowning moment is winning the T34 800m gold at this year’s European Championships.

Having won silver, in Swansea, at the Euros two years previously, it was a great achievement to go one better.

However, he is hoping there will be another chapter in his career to be written when the Paralympics gets under way on September 7.

“Obviously to top my silver second time around at the Euros was great,” said Towers, who also came second and third in Grosseto in the 400m and 200m respectively. Winning the 800m was a great achievement.

“Tactically the race went quite well even though I got off to quite a slow start.

“I am known as quite a slow starter and that is something I am working on.

“If you see a video of the race back, you will see I managed to get through the pack so that I was on the shoulder of the leading man with 200m to go.

“It was a good race and I managed to beat him down the home straight.

“I am a slow starter, but my sprint finish is definitely my strength.”