In April’s edition of ‘Me and My Coach’ we find out from world long jump T42 champion Vanessa Low why location comes first.
The German para-athlete lives in the United States and trains with US coach Roderick Green – together, they explain just what makes their relationship such a success.
What does it take to be the best in the world? For Vanessa Low, it meant relocating to the other side of the Atlantic.
In 2013, Low left her native Germany to train under the guidance of American coach and para-athlete Roderick Green.
Only one year earlier, Low had decided to retire from the sport and focus on her career and studies. Although she still enjoyed competing, she had fallen out of love with training.
Weeks after taking part in the London 2012 Paralympic Games - where she finished sixth in the long jump T42-44 and fourth in the 100m T42 - the 25-year-old travelled to Oklahoma in the USA to visit her long-time friend Katrin Green.
Katrin had been Low’s roommate during their time spent representing Germany together – she won Paralympic 200m T44 gold in 2008, and bronze in 2012. Now living in the US and married to Roderick – the pair met at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games - it was the Greens that Low turned to for advice and support.
Training with Roderick and Katrin gave Low the inspiration she needed to keep going. Low returned to Germany to finish her university studies – then immediately moved back across to the States, reinvigorated and ready to give para-athletics another go, as part of Green’s Oklahoma-based training group.
It meant leaving family and friends, moving to a new continent, speaking a new language – but Low knew working with Roderick was the right decision.
“He was the very first person to ever believe in my abilities to win medals, so who else could train me to win medals? If a coach does not believe in me winning I believe I should not train with that coach,” explained Low.
“I think it is hard anyway to start with a new coach because you have to build up trust on both sides,” said Low.
“That was quite difficult for me at the beginning because the training was so different from what I had been used to. You don’t know what results you will be getting, and training was really hard.”
But having Katrin there made the transition to life in America smoother.
“Katrin was a really important part for me – she was a little bit of home for me in the States, especially in the beginning when I was still struggling with the language. It was just nice to talk some German and have someone understand how it is to come from one culture to another.”
For Roderick, there was no doubting Low’s potential. He knew immediately that the German was capable of reaching the top.
“I’d listened to the stories, I knew how she was built, how tall she was naturally before she lost her legs. Looking at videos, her stride length wasn’t as long or as fast as it should be for someone her height, so it wasn’t even the first day – I felt potential when she came over just for the visit.
“Once I found out what the world record was in the long jump and the 100m, then I found out what other girls were doing, I just thought ‘I’m pretty sure I can make this happen,’” said Green, who won 200m T44 silver, 400m T44 bronze and long jump T44 bronze at the Sydney Games in 2000, and continues to represent the US in sitting volleyball.
The American feels no extra pressure even though Low has moved half way across the world to work with him.
“I felt more honoured. When you feel honoured and you feel like someone’s putting that much trust in you, it made me want to be a better coach, just through knowing that she gave up so much to be here.”
The Greens and Low spend time together outside of track and field too – Low looks after the Greens’ young child; they in turn babysit her dog when she is away competing – “It has become more like a family thing,” acknowledges Green.
As for Low’s sublime performance at last year’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Qatar – she leapt over the 4.70m mark three times, setting a new world record of 4.79m – Green’s reaction is double-edged.
“There were two reactions – the first was ‘That’s awesome. That was wonderful and great.’
“My second reaction was ‘You jumped further than that all week long before in practice, why didn’t you go further,’” he laughed.
So there’s plenty more to come?
“Oh yes, especially for long jump. As her coach I think she can go further than she did in Doha, and I think she’s going to have to, to win Paralympic gold, because I know [former world champion and world record holder] Martina Caironi is going to work hard to beat her. I know she’s going to be training, so Vanessa’s going to have to get better.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs).
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.