Three years of wheelchair racing have taken this talented 19-year-old athlete from the school sports track to world number two in three T33 wheelchair racing events: the 100m, 200m and 400m.
It has been an incredible rise for the teenager from Thames Ditton who this month surprised everyone, including himself, by breaking two 13-year-old European records on his international debut at the IWAS World Junior Games in Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of Paralympic sport.
In a world-class field Toby was competing against the world record holder for the T33 100m, 200m and 400m – Ahmad Almutairi from Kuwait – who also holds the world record for the 800m. Over the three shorter distances at the Games Almutairi was still the clear winner, with Toby picking up the bronze medal in each race behind Finnish T34 athlete Henry Manni, but it was the times he clocked that got everyone talking.
In the 400m, the first event in which he broke the European record, Toby knocked a full 14 seconds off the previous mark which had stood since 2001. Three days later in the 100m he clocked 17:57 seconds, having already broken the record once in the heat, and that time at London 2012 would have been enough for a new Paralympic record and the gold medal.
“I would definitely say that the 100m is my best event out of the three,” Toby says. “But I think my best performance at the Games had to be the 400m, where I managed two personal bests. One in the heats and one in the final.
“To be quite honest I didn’t go into the competition aware of the records. I just wanted to race and only worry about PBs. I did not actually find out about the first European record until I was told about the second one on the last day of competition, before the final of the 100m. After being told I tried not to think about it until the last race was over, to avoid myself getting distracted and to stay focused. However afterwards I got a chance to relax and let it sink in.”
He added, “I felt extremely happy that I performed when it mattered in both events. A big plus was the fact that my family and friends had been there to see me do it. Their response was certainly overwhelming. That was what made me proud.”
Competing alongside Manni and Almutairi at such a high-profile event was clearly a good motivation for Toby who described his first experience of international competition as “a great honour in itself”.
“For me, it was a great opportunity to be able to compete at such a high level. Let alone with some of the best athletes in the world. I also learnt a great deal about my own performances.
“Competing at Stoke Mandeville is always very special due to the amount of history that is involved there, in terms of its role in shaping the Paralympic sport that we see today around the world. Furthermore, the competition was fitting as part of the legacy from London 2012, also on home soil.”
Toby’s success is very much part of that legacy. Having switched to wheelchair racing from wheelchair basketball just one year before the Games came to London, he now enjoys the mentoring and support of Paralympic legend David Weir who so memorably won four gold medals there.
“To have a role model within the sport is extremely important for any athlete because they are someone that you aspire to be like. In addition to have someone like David around to learn from on almost a daily basis, as part of the Weir Archer Academy is amazing. He has been there and done everything in the sport. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Another thing Toby and David have in common is that they have both received support from the charity SportsAid: Toby for the past two years thanks to a donation from Time Warner and David back in 1996, the first year in which he competed at the Paralympics.
Toby says this support has made a massive difference to him, “because I’m not having to worry about trying to find ways to fund new equipment such as tyres or racing gloves. As a result I do not feel as if I’m under so much pressure, which is beneficial as I can just concentrate on my racing which is great.”
It is the sport that has had the biggest impact on him though and Toby says he would love to pass some of this on to other young athletes if he could.
“The sport of wheelchair racing and the opportunities that I have been given through it have been life-changing for me. If I were to have the chance to pass my experience to the next generation and inspire them through my performance, in some way giving them the same opportunities, I would be proud.”
To help a rising star like Toby to achieve his or her ambitions, call SportsAid on 020 7273 1975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Toby’s career and achievements, search for his athlete profile on SportsAid’s website (www.sportsaid.org.uk).