Paralympic swimming star Lyndon Longhorne on his Tokyo targets and his Newcastle United story
Written by Lyndon Longhorne
Quadruple amputee Lyndon Longhorne, originally from Crook in County Durham but now living in Gateshead, flew out to Tokyo this month to compete in his first Paralympic Games. The 25-year-old United supporter has enjoyed a stunning 2021 so far, setting eight British Para-Swimming long course records, and will represent Great Britain in the 50-metre breaststroke, 50-metre backstroke, mixed freestyle relay, 200-metre and 50-metre front crawl and the 150-metre individual medley events.
I was eight and a half months old when I contracted meningitis. I was rushed to Newcastle General Hospital with a high temperature, a nurse discovered three spots on my chest and within days, my right leg above the knee, my left leg below the knee, my entire right hand and the fingertips on my left had all been amputated in order to save my life.
I'm a Newcastle United supporter and for a few years, Newcastle United supported me; my first pair of prosthetic legs, which I had fitted when I was three years old, were black and white stripes. They asked me what design I wanted and it was always going to be either my favourite football team or Lara Croft...
Prosthetic limbs have come a long way in the last 20 or so years - back then, they were basically nuts and bolts with a few bars attached together and an uncomfortable strap across my waist, whereas now, my right leg has a full mechanical knee, with Bluetooth technology built in to adapt to different surfaces. But I'll never forget my first legs. I've still got them, signed by the likes of Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer and Sir Bobby Robson from when I went along to meet the team in 1999.
I've always been proud to show my colours. One time, when I was at primary school, I was invited to the Stadium of Light for a prize-giving ceremony and insisted on wearing my Newcastle shirt. And when I won a Local Heroes award from The Northern Echo two years ago, I was presented with a Newcastle shirt signed by Shearer, which I'll always treasure.
Later this month, though, I'll be wearing the red, white and blue of Great Britain as I compete in the Paralympics for the first time.
Life takes us on different paths and I try to use what happened to me as a baby more as an ability, rather than a disability.
I've accepted it and got on with life. My mentality has always been to push my boundaries as far as I can and my motto is 'believe and achieve'. If you believe in yourself and you have the right support from people around you, there's no reason why you can't go on to achieve bigger and better things in life.
Although I loved watching football, and especially Newcastle, it was never a sport I wanted to participate in but I'd started swimming from a young age. And in 2008, I watched the Beijing games and saw the likes of Ellie Simmons and Michael Phelps winning medals and setting records, which was what really gave me the motivation to want to compete myself.
I soon set my sights on going for London in 2012, while still a teenager, but although I missed out, I was chosen as an Olympic flame torchbearer that year in Bishop Auckland and that inspired me even more to push for Rio in 2016. But I wasn't selected then either, and I decided to take a break from the pool.
But when my daughter, Aubree, was born in 2018, that gave me fresh motivation to get back in the water. Why give up on your dreams when you've already worked so hard for them? What about believe and achieve?
Lyndon Longhorne meets Alan Shearer in 1999 - photograph courtesy of The Northern Echo
I started swimming again the following year, but then the pandemic hit and swimming pools closed - so I started swimming in the sea instead. Since the lanes reopened, I've been able to break a number of British records this year and here I am, about to head out to Tokyo to represent my country in a few days' time.
It was Britain's most successful ever Olympic Games in terms of swimming medals, so we certainly have a hard act to follow when the Paralympics get underway on 24th August. For me personally, it's my first major competition - I've not done a European or World Championships - so my target is to set new season bests or lifetime bests. That would be amazing; if we come back with a medal, it would be a bonus.
Long term, my focus is on heading to Paris in 2024. But after missing out in 2012 and 2016, I feel like it's third time lucky and I want to enjoy every second of it.
Whatever happens in Tokyo, it's been one hell of a journey, but I wouldn't change anything. Not even what happened when I was eight and a half months old, because that was my path. And certainly not the black and white legs!
This article originally appeared in UNITED - the Magpies' official matchday programme - ahead of the pre-season friendly against Norwich City earlier this month. To order your copy of next Wednesday night's matchday programme online, as well as upcoming issues and programmes from the 2020/21 season, visit Curtis Sport's website here.
"I'm a Newcastle United supporter and for a few years, Newcastle United supported me; my first pair of prosthetic legs, which I had fitted when I was three years old, were black and white stripes."