12 March 2020. We meet wheeler Peter Genyn in the beautiful Kalmthout. It's not the first time we meet Peter, but now we don't know how to behave. As the Coronaregulations tell us, we are not allowed to greet him with a kiss or a handshake. It still takes some getting used to. The first topic of conversation is of course self-evident.

    What restrictions do you experience as a top athlete now that Belgium is taking more and more measures to control the Corona virus?

    Peter: "The races were cancelled for the coming month, but my first race is only scheduled for the end of May. I'll have to wait and see if there are any more measures that could affect my daily workouts".

    interview wheeler Peter Genyn
    Interview with wheeler Peter Genyn

    What does a typical day look like to you?

    Peter: "My day starts with the morning toilet, which of course takes a bit more time than an able-bodied person. After that I make time for a hearty breakfast and then take the car to Ghent where I'm going to train. I train there on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On average I train a few hours with my coach on the slopes followed by fitness and/or balance training. After that I return home where I will be treated by the kine to loosen up my muscles. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I train at home on the reels or I go outside to ride".

    Ghent is a long way from Kalmthout. Why this choice?

    Peter: "Most of Parantee's athletics is based in Ghent. The wheelers are coached together, before or after it's up to the prosthetic runners. In addition, there are no athletics tracks in the area that are as good as in Ghent. It's indeed a very long drive and often queues up in traffic jams".

    What does your team look like?

    I have a coach who coaches several people in athletics, 3 of whom will probably go to the paralympics now. I'm also accompanied by a nutrition coach. A few weeks before a match, we decide what we are allowed to eat per hour. Of course I also have a daily physiotherapist who loosens my muscles.

    You have already had some setbacks. How do you stay motivated to keep training?

    Peter: "It's a passion. If it's not a passion, you can't keep it up. Actually, you can see it as an addiction. When I came home from the World Cup, 3 weeks of rest had been planned. After a few days it started itching to do a tour anyway."

    It's not for the money, it's not for the glory, it's just for the medal.

    How did you get into the wheeling?

    Peter: "During my rehabilitation in Ghent I came in contact with someone who wanted to start wheelchair rugby and was looking for people who were interested in this. At that time, G-sport was really still in its infancy and was not really promoted in the rehabilitation centre. I finally did wheelchair rugby for 20 years. We were a very good team and even made it to the European Championships. Later I got hip problems and during wheelchair rugby the chance of fractures had become much too big, so I had to choose a different sport".

    Wheeler Peter Genyn wheelchair racer
    Peter Genyn

    As a G athlete you deliver the same great performance as a top athlete, yet they are often even more impressive given their physical limitations. Do you think the media pays enough attention to this?

    Peter: "We see the media attention increasing, especially at Sporza our performances are often mentioned. As a result, the newspapers are also picking up on it more and more. However, it is very striking and incomprehensible that at VTM, for example, no attention is ever given to G-sport".

    Are you paid the same amount for your performance compared to other athletes?

    Peter: "For a gold medal I received prize money at the Games in Rio that had a value of 1/5 compared to the prize money that Nafi Thiam received who also won gold at the Games. Furthermore, as G athletes for European Championships and World Championships, we don't get anything from prize money, while that is the case for ordinary athletes. Because of this, we are also forced to look for sponsors, which is not obvious at all. G-sporters get much less media coverage anyway, so sponsors often have less visibility. I sometimes give a lecture for my sponsors or try to give them some visibility through social media. These are things that are added to where our focus is not on, but that are desperately needed to keep doing our sport at this level.

    Wheeler Peter Genyn
    Peter Genyn with Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016
    wheeler Peter Genyn medailles olympische spelen Rio 2016
    the 2 gold medals of the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016

    Do you have any suggestions for people who want to start G-sport?

    Peter: "Just do it. Anyway, it's good to move around a lot. It keeps you supple, it makes sure you can keep your transfers smooth, experience less spasticity, ... "

    You're regularly abroad. How does travelling by plane from the trolley go?

    Peter: "Travelling with a trolley actually goes very smoothly. They drive the wheelchair up to the seats of the plane. If you can't do this yourself, 2 stewards place you on the seat next to a window so that other fellow passengers are not hindered when they have to pass. It is always good to indicate in advance that the wheelchair has to be ready when you land, because it has happened before that the wheelchair was waiting for me with the luggage.... It is also important that your wheelchair is labeled.

    I usually travel through the travel organization Wetravel2 because I also have a lot of equipment with me, but travelling is also perfectly possible without a travel organization. I do ask for an adapted hotel room so that I have a spacious and adapted bathroom to make my morning toilet run smoothly".

    Travelling by plane shouldn't be an obstacle to getting out, according to you. What about the bus or train?

    Peter: "That's something else. Travelling by train or bus is really disastrous in Belgium. Far too few stations or stops are accessible. I once took the coastal tram in Ostend and could only get off at the station of Ostend, the other stops were not accessible. We have the opportunity to use the bus free of charge, but as a wheelchair user it's not motivating at all".

    Which country do you think is the most accessible?

    Peter: "In the United States really all public places are fully accessible. You feel that they really have a lot of respect for people with disabilities there. Perhaps this deep respect comes from veteran times. For example, during my trip I really wanted to drive on a race track with a ferrari. I had an operating system to control a car with my hands. When I asked if I could use my hand control on their cars, they said they thought it would be better if I used their own custom cars. Everywhere in the U.S. there's the possibility of renting a custom car. They can learn something from that in Belgium."

    As a custom clothing company, we're wondering what are the biggest stumbling blocks for you when it comes to clothes from the regular market. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing clothes?

    Peter: "Actually, I've never worn trousers from the regular market before. I always wear wheelchair pants. I used to make sure that the trousers were long enough because that was the biggest problem considering my height. Wheelchair pants are longer than pants from the regular market, cover my back through the higher waist and don't put any pressure on my tailbone. Besides pants, jackets are also a problem. I barely wear them anymore. I do have some jerseys with a zipper on, but I partially allow them to be put on above my head. Handling zippers is not easy for me".

    wheeler Peter Genyn rolstoelbroek So Yes
    Peter Genyn with the VINNY wheelchair trouser

    What could be the highlights for you in 2020?

    I shouldn't think about that for long. There are 2 highlights: the birth of our baby in April and hopefully 2 gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics in September.

    We wish you every success and support you in this!

    Sofie and Jessie