What keeps a man like Jason Smyth running? Why would someone with 17 gold medals spread across the Paralympic Games and World and European championships continue to put his proud record of never having been bettered on the big stage on the line? What’s still in it for him?
He is 32 years old now. Smyth has a wife and two beautiful daughters, and plenty of interests besides athletics. Liverpool FC is another love in his life. He is a director of the Netball Northern Ireland board. There have been internships with banks and investment firms. Roles as brand ambassador for the likes of Toyota.
And sprinting has left him with few boxes left to tick.
Only 0.04 seconds separated him from a place at the 2012 Olympics seven years ago but he was the first Paralympian to compete in the European Championships and there was a bronze medal won with an Irish 4 x 100m relay team. What other worlds has he to conquer?
He is already the fastest Paralympian on the planet. There is no rung higher on that particular ladder, but plenty to which he could slip. The chances of eclipsing the rush of London 2012 when he regained his 100m and 200m titles in what was effectively a ‘home’ games for Irish athletes are closer to none than slim.
So, again, what is it that keeps him keeping on?
“The funny thing is I feel more motivated now than I have ever been, which is probably not common given the success I have had. You obviously have peaks and troughs in that time where you would have been more motivated than others.
"I have always had this desire with what I am doing to achieve things that people don’t. To do what we sometimes see as the impossible and to to do something that we might never see again.
“You’re right, in the sense that winning another gold medal doesn’t necessarily change anything. I’ve done it and I’ve done it a number of times and do you have more to lose by attempting to win more? The reality is the longer you do something the greater chance somebody is going to come along and challenge that. But I also enjoy the challenge of having to up my game and you have to take those risks.”
All the signs are that he is energised by that challenge. He is thumbing his nose at Father Time and the suggestion that nothing lasts forever with a summer of encouraging performances that included his fastest 100m in over three years when posting a run of 10.51 at Loughborough earlier this month.
But he knows this won’t last forever. Can’t.
Smyth is at an age now where he has to envisage life beyond the World Para Athletic Championships in Dubai later this year and the Paralympics in Tokyo in 12 month’s time. Will he call time post-Japan and cross the Rubicon into that ‘other’ life? Or commit to another four-year cycle?
His success may stand him apart but this question is universal to elite sportspeople. Some are more mindful of the maxim that they will be ‘retired long enough’. Others are haunted by the thought that they would somehow tarnish the reputation built over long years of toil by a late drop in standards as the body or mind betrays them.
And amidst all that is the eternal question? What next?
“At this stage I would say I don’t know the final destination,” Smyth says of life after singlets. “What I am trying to do is get a clearer understanding of what that might be and some of those other areas you mentioned, being on the board and internships, are with a view to taking a step and seeing what comes from that.
“Hopefully by taking enough steps that gives me a clearer picture of what that next chapter looks like. It’s a bit of a slow process and one you learn along the way. You often learn the things you don’t want to do. A lot of the characteristics you learn to be successful in sports are the same things you need to be successful outside of it.
“I know those skills can be quite attractive in another situation. It’s just about learning where I want that to be because I have enjoyed what I have done for the last 10-15 years and I don’t want to spend the next 25 doing something that I don’t enjoy. It’s making sure I get that right, whether it is inside or outside of sport.”
Few people have learned to put one foot in front of the other with such pace and precision as Smyth but the most uncertain step is yet to come. Whenever that may be.
Jason Smyth, Toyota ambassador and world’s fastest Paralympian, is pictured (below) as Toyota Ireland celebrates 12 months until the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Toyota is an official partner to Paralympics Ireland and worldwide mobility partner to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Toyota has partnered with the Olympic Channel and top global athletes to create a series of documentaries titled “Is It Possible”. Jason Smyth stars in the next episode set to premiere this month, where he explores if it is possible for a Paralympic athlete to break 10 seconds over 100m.