independent

Tuesday 23 July 2019

'Fatty' nickname in school spurred Marcin on to be top athlete

Having been bullied over his weight as a teenager, New Ross athlete Marcin is now competing in triathlons with world's best

Marcin Mizgajski riding solo
Marcin Mizgajski riding solo
The Team Ireland tandem cyclists at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Marcin Mizgajski, Peter Ryan, Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy

David Looby

A New Ross athlete - who was cruelly christened 'Fatty' by his classmates in school when he was a teenager - has transformed his life and is competing with the world's best with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in his sights.

Marcin Mizgajski (37) proved his mettle when he joined Tipperary's Peter Ryan in the Men's B Tandem Time Trial and Men's B Tandem Road Race in Fort Copacabana during the 2016 Rio Olympics. He competed with Waterford paralympian Damien Vereker in Italy recently in a time trial and road race, finishing eighth in both races. 'That was our highest result since the Olympics. We are up against athletes from 24 countries.'

Marcin and Damien (38) completed three 9km laps of a very hilly route for the time trial and completed a 40km road race, traveling at 40 km/h on average, despite the 1500m elevation they encountered during the challenge.

'There was one descent we hit 95 km/h at. It was raining so that was risky!' Marcin says with a smile.

He said success as a tandem cyclist comes down to how well you know your partner.

'It's not about being the strongest; often the strongest guys don't come anywhere. If it's a twisty, bendy road, the guy at the back has to fully trust me. If I say "corner left" he has to move that way. On our cycle in Italy there were some hills we barely made it through.'

What makes Marcin and Damien's success all the more breathtaking was the fact they have competed so little together since the Rio Olympics, combined with the fact they were up against full-time, sponsored athletes.

'I had been swimming and running a lot. We train on Saturday's but haven't been competing so we thought we were going to finish at the back and we ended up one place behind the world champions. When you see the rainbow jersey just in front of you, you know you're not doing that bad!'

Marcin competed in the Aquabike Nationals in Lough Cutra near Gort in late May, where he swam 2km in a lake in 30 minutes, before changing into his cycling gear for a 96km time trial, in which he averaged 39 km/h. Out of a field of 80 athletes he came eighth in both competitions, placing third overall and winning the 30-39 age group outright.

'It was great to win; the first highlight of the season for me.'

Marcin said his biggest achievement as an athlete to date has been competing in the Rio Olympics, while winning a medal in the Paracycling World Cup South Africa in 2016 with Damien was another highlight.

'Being number one in the world was definitely a highlight.'

Marcin is on a panel of five to be a para-triathlon pilot in the Tokyo Olympics next year and is fighting to be competing alongside Donnchadh McCarthy, a fully blind athlete who is seen as having potential to medal in the games.

'I did a race with him in April to see how we got on together. It was a different experience. He is among the top athletes.'

Marcin will have to wait until June of next year to find out if he will be going to Tokyo but in the meantime the full-time Brandon House Hotel leisure centre worker, family man, and athlete who trains 20 hours a week, has no plans to slow down.

In September he competes in the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Nice alongside fellow New Ross athletes Mick Ryan and Des Mullett.

Marcin said he wasn't always a slim, ironman. As a teenage he was overweight and was called 'fatty' by his classmates in school.

'I was a chubby boy that had a nickname "fatty ". One day I decided to show them all that I also can be fast so decided to cycle to lose the weight and than I added running and swimming together and started triathlon training. I entered a national championship race at age 17 and I came last and it was in my home town with everyone watching me. That was another day that stayed in my head so I decided to be very good at this sport and after five years I was one of the best in Poland. Since than I just got addicted to being competitive at everything, even at the things that I am bad at like Gaelic football.'

He said the bigger the challenge the more he enjoys it.

'If something is a passion it is a pleasure to do it and with the right mindset you actually don't feel like you are in pain. You just smile at it.'

For anyone reading this who is considering getting into sport in a serious way, Marcin offered these encouraging words: 'Age doesn't matter. Greg Swindon is currently the number one cycle track holder in Ireland and that is elite.'

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