Taz Nicholls never expected to be picked for next week’s World Para Athletics European Championships – so much so that he didn’t he didn’t even answer the call confirming his selection.
The Barnet athlete may be 30 but his athletics career is just reaching its infancy, with a trip to Berlin marking a maiden international selection for the former footballer.
Indeed the European nod has come even earlier than Nicholls himself expected, eyeing up a place at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in his favoured F64 discus event.
Before then however comes a chance to show what he can do in Germany, believing this can be the event in which he can produce something special if the stars align.
“It’s starting to click but I don’t think it’s fully there yet, I feel there is a massive throw in there when everything comes together at the same time,” he said.
“If it happens in Berlin then that would be perfect, I’m going to do my best and hopefully it will click there.
“For me, gaining a lot of experience and having fun is going to mean success – I used to be hard on myself when I didn’t get it straight away so it’s all about steps.
“As I wasn’t expecting to be picked, I just went to work as normal and didn’t answer my phone – even though I knew this would be the day.
“Then I left without checking, and by 8.30pm I got a phone call from my nan with someone ringing after me all day.
“Finally I did check and had a text telling me I needed to talk about my Euro selection – that feeling was just amazing.”
Nicknamed Taz due to his tearaway nature on the football pitch, Nicholls – whose real name is Michael – didn’t always have his heart on athletics.
But when a bad tackle snapped his tibia and fibula, suddenly kicking a ball around a field was no longer an option for a man who lived and breathed sport.
A new desire had to be found and quickly for Nicholls, guided in the right direction by a coach he met in the gym while optimistically trying to get fit and return to the game he loved.
While he didn’t want to admit it at the time, football was gone for the 30-year-old – but with discus his new calling, the Londoner hasn’t looked back since.
“When I got the injury and I couldn’t do football any more, I was at a massive loss – I didn’t know what to do. I thought that was the end,” added the Herts Disability Sports Foundation charity worker.
“But then a coach marched me to a computer, made me send an email and British Athletics have done the rest since that day in 2014.
“Rio (2016 Paralympic Games) was coming up and I’d just started training but watching that really fuelled the enthusiasm of where I wanted to be.
“I found a purpose again and I was going hell for leather for it. I put a lot of weight on and it worked to my advantage for throwing.
“I’ve hit rock bottom and come back from it, there have been those ups and downs.
Nicholls will throw in the F64 classification in Berlin, for athletes competing with prosthesis affected by limb deficiency and leg length difference.
Not that he sees himself as being denied opportunities in life.
He added: “I’m very honoured, there are so many great athletes going to Berlin and to be considered one of the best of the country is always a nice feeling.
“I’m not going to say I’m not nervous, the butterflies are there and it’s sinking in, but I’m just going to do everything that I’ve prepared for and try to treat it like any other competition.”
British Athletics works alongside UK Sport and the National Lottery to support the delivery of success at the world’s most significant sporting events, principally the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We do this via the funded initiative, the World Class Programme, one part of the British Athletics pathway.