Interview Diego: “To me, this shows that everything is still possible”

Diego Parrondo, a wheelchair racer from Spain, is showing us all that everything is possible, as long as you put in the effort. Read the interview below!

Diego is not just another participant in the Lentemarathon – but he plans to complete the half marathon in a racing wheelchair! A huge honour for us as an organisation to host him of course, and it made us want to call him up for a short interview. You can read this interview below!

Tell me a little bit about yourself!

I was born in Spain, where at 18 I had an accident in a swimming pool. This tragic incident ended in a spinal cord injury. As a result, I lost muscle function from my chest to my toes. I also have little control over my hands and triceps anymore, so daily tasks and also switching to a wheelchair wasn’t easy. I spent a full year in a hospital, in a rehabilitation programme.

In 2014, I moved to the Netherlands with my family, which was always the plan. There I got my bachelor’s degree at TU Eindhoven and then continued with a master’s at TU Delft. Until recently, I lived in Breda, but recently I started living with my brother in Amsterdam.

Was it hard for you to flip the switch and start exercising again after your accident?

Not at all. I was always sporty before my accident and I started playing sports in my rehabilitation programme. I did wheelchair tennis, table tennis, I even had swimming lessons for a while. But it was only here in the Netherlands that I really started thinking about wheelchair racing. There was a club in Breda where I could try that, and I took that chance.

I scraped together some money, bought a racing wheelchair and started training. In the beginning, that was about twice a week, but soon I was training every day. Along with my studies, it had soon become a full-time thing and I loved it.

In the second year, I already started competing internationally and for the next five years I did competitions all over Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain… I even ended up qualifying for the European Championships and being invited to the Diamond League.

For me, this showed that regardless of your setbacks, you can always do a lot more than you think, if you put in enough effort. For me, the ultimate goal was to make it to the Paralympics, but the process towards that has also been amazing so far.

How did you as a sprinter, end up signing up for the Lentemarathon?

Well, back when COVID-19 was at its peak, I had to pause my training to avoid getting infected. My respiratory system is functioning at about 40% after the accident, so I really needed to stay away from getting infected.

Before this, I came out in the 100 and 200 metres, so that was indeed completely different from what I want to do now. I started looking for ways I could still stay active and that resulted in the idea of looking at a half marathon. In the future, I also want to complete a full marathon, but for now this will do for a while.

You are usually a short distance sprinter from what I could find, right?

Yes, that’s right. Before this, I always competed in the 100 and 200 metres. The preparation is therefore also different. It is not as if all my years of preparation have now been for nothing, because a number of facets can be translated directly to this long distance, but it does require different training. I am no longer training very intensively for 30 to 45 minutes, but I can now be found on the road for an hour or more.

That does also require a different mindset, I have noticed. I no longer go to the track now, but train on the road. The training itself is longer and slower, I notice that I still have to get used to that, but fortunately I still have a few months for that. So, the difference is definitely not just physical, but you also have to adjust your mindset.

Who’s running with you?

My brother will run with me! He has been an active runner himself for years, having run the Amsterdam marathon just a few weeks ago. He will run with me for when I need help. By help I don’t mean being pushed, but for when I get a puncture or something like that, for example. I am confident it will not be necessary, but it is good to have him close by.

But when you run with your brother, is it all good, or is there a bit of a brotherly rivalry?

I think a bit of both! There is definitely a little rivalry, after all, we have been playing sports together all our lives and then something like that naturally develops. Besides being my brother, he is also my coach, so he can send me out if I don’t feel like it for once, or let me go deeper than I could by myself. So, I benefit a lot from that.

Are you aiming for a certain finishing time, or are you just focused on making the line?

Well of course I have no reference point for myself, but I am going for 1.5 to 2 hours. That is a nice goal for me and I am confident that I can achieve it. I want to get as close as possible to that 1 hour and 30 minutes.

How is the rest of your year and next year looking? Any major goals?

If all goes well with this half marathon, which I do assume it will, I plan to take on more half marathons. If the weather in the Netherlands stays nice for a bit, I do plan to continue this trend and complete one or more 10K’s, or half marathons, before the summer. I will leave sprinting for a while next year, because I won’t be able to make that switch fast enough to compete seriously again in the coming summer.