Tokyo Paralympics: Roderick Townsend-Roberts almost left the track in 2018 after feeling burnt out

There was a time when Roderick Townsend-Roberts had almost retired from the field but then he left his job and took a bet on himself


                            Tokyo Paralympics: Roderick Townsend-Roberts almost left the track in 2018 after feeling burnt out
Roderick Townsend of the United States competes in the Men's 100 Meter Dash T13/46/47 Ambulatory final during the 2021 US Paralympic Trials (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

USA’s Roderick Townsend-Roberts is set to battle it out with China’s Hao Wang yet one more time in the men’s high jump T47. On day five of the para-athletics program at Tokyo 2020, the two paralympians will fight for the gold. The two have competed before — Townsend-Roberts might have beaten Wang to top the podium at Rio 2016 but the latter made a comeback at the World Championships title at London 2017 and Dubai 2019. So the event that will be held in just a few days is pretty much going to be a showdown of their talents.

Townsend-Roberts reportedly took up para-athletics seven years ago in 2014. He was introduced to para-athletics by US para-high jumper Jeff Skiba. "I knew I had a disability, but I didn't think anything of it. I had heard of the Paralympics before, but I thought the only people who did Paralympics were people with blades," he was reported saying.

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As per World Para Athletics, Townsend-Roberts stands 6’7” (2.01m) tall and had sustained permanent nerve damage to his right arm and shoulder at birth. His right arm is significantly weaker than his left as a result. "I was breached and the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck so the doctor had to break my collarbone and dislocate my shoulder. In doing so, he damaged all the nerves in my brachial plexus," he spoke of his injury.

Setting records 

The first time that Townsend-Roberts competed in para-athletics was in 2015, he won high jump T47 gold plus long jump and triple jump silver at the World Championships the same year — he set two world records (2.07 and 2.12 m) and won the world title in the high jump in his disability class.

A perfectionist

The two-time paralympian (2016, 2020) and two-time Paralympic medalist (2 golds in 2016), also came 5th in the 100-meter dash at Rio 2016. It appears that Townsend-Roberts is a perfectionist. After the long jump at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he had reportedly said that he was unhappy with his performance in the high jump. "I was very disappointed with my high jump performance, especially going back and watching the film. It was really ugly. Being somewhat of a perfectionist I'm disappointed with the way I handled myself when it really mattered the most."

The following year in 2017, he set a new world record of 2.13m in April. "I cleared that by a whole bunch — I was more upset that I didn’t clear 2.18m, I just nicked it off with my heel at the last minute," he was reported saying. It is actually one of his ambitions to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, as per teamusa.org. 

Almost retired

There was a time when Townsend-Roberts had almost retired from the field. It was in 2018, at a time when he was feeling burnt out. His story, his words: "In 2018 I almost retired from track. I had already won two gold medals in Rio, set the world record multiple times, won world championships and I felt burnt out. After months of getting ready to throw in the towel, I finally took a second to ask, 'What my future self would think'? Up to this point, I was either a student-athlete or balancing working 50 hours a week as a coach along with a master's program. I did not want to risk wondering what if anymore. Jeff Petersmeyer had coached me remotely for five years so I figured I'd go all in and make the move to be trained in person. I threw caution to the wind, and left my job at Northern Arizona University to relocate to Louisville, Kentucky, where I had no job, no place to live and no clue where the best pizza places were. I'm so happy I bet on myself and won. It would have been outside of my character to have given up because I felt uncomfortable."

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