“General practitioner and cyclist, I qualified for the Tokyo Paralympic Games”

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Marie Patouillet sera sur la piste des Jeux Paralympiques de Tokyo les 25 et 27 août 2021.

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“As a child and teenager, I had an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon once a year. A necessary step because I was born with a deformity in my foot and ankle and a significant difference in length between the two legs. He operated on me, which limited the impact of my disability on a daily basis. I saw him as a bit of an example, so studying medicine seemed obvious to me.

I was not a very good student and I knew I would have a hard time keeping up on my own in college. I preferred to join the Bordeaux Army Health Service School to be supervised. This trains future doctors destined to serve in the Ministry of Defense. I followed a classic course in medicine at the university and had, in addition, courses and exams related to medicine in the military context.

I did a lot of sport in parallel with this course. Running, above all, but also tennis, handball, etc. When I was 20, a pain started to wake up in my foot. When I was 25, I was told that I could no longer run. News that I had a lot of trouble digesting …

Laborious beginnings

I finished my internship, defended my thesis and was discharged from the Army for physical incapacity. Given the condition of my foot, I was told that I could play two sports: swimming and cycling. Swimming, for me, was no. I had too bad memories of it. As a child, I found very cruel the remarks of children who made fun of my malformation while swimming. Also, the swimming pool hours were incompatible with my schedule.

At 28, I started cycling. It was a way to breathe, to turn the page on the army and running. At the time, I was starting to practice as a doctor and doing replacements three or four days a week.

I told myself that it would be nice to compete with girls who had a disability like mine because our performances would be comparable. My goal was above all to have fun. I contacted the Handisport Federation to find out how to take part in competitions and joined a cycling club in Villeneuve-la-Garenne (Hauts-de-Seine). In winter, given the weather conditions, I was recommended to do track rather than road. I tried in January 2018… and loved it right away, especially because of the speed.

I then started to participate in some competitions. The beginnings were very difficult, but I held on. At the end of 2018, I joined US Créteil (Val-de-Marne), a big club with a lot of good track cyclists and where great champions have passed. In 2021, I got the 3e place at the Handisport Worlds. From then on, my pace became very sustained.

A very dense double life

Grégory Baugé, multiple world champion in sprint, started to prepare me with a thorough training program. From then on, all my days were busy. During the week, I got up at 5 am to do some weight training, before starting my day at work as a doctor. My day ended, I returned home to do the home trainer (indoor bike). The rest of the time was dedicated to track training.

I always had my patients in my head and answered professional phone calls or emails during training. It was particularly dense and tiring. And difficult to have a personal life in these conditions. But financially, I had no choice, I had to work. My motivation paid off: I won the title of vice-world champion in the 500 meters in 2021.

Avenir Mutuelle started to support me financially a year ago. In February 2021, I signed a two-year contract with the Army of Champions * (a device that brings together around a hundred athletes paid for training, Editor's note). This contract and this help allow me to make a living from my sport. Since that date, I have not practiced as a doctor at all to devote myself to preparing for the Games.

Devote yourself to medicine after 2024

If they hadn't been postponed for a year, I would never have been ready for that deadline. Taking part in the Games makes me happy because when I started cycling, this possibility never crossed my mind. I didn't even think I could do top-level sport.

Marie Patouillet at the 2020 Para-cycling Track World Championships in Milton, Canada.  There she won a silver medal in the 500 meters standing start and a silver medal in the omnium in her category.

Marie Patouillet at the 2021 Para-cycling Track World Championships in Milton, Canada. There she won a silver medal in the 500 meters standing start and a silver medal in the omnium in her category.Jean-Baptiste Benavent

For these Games, I'm aiming for a podium for the 500-meter standing start and the three-kilometer individual pursuit events. Once this deadline has passed, I will resume my activity as a doctor for one day per week, to maintain my skill level. The rest of my time will be devoted to my training. If my athletic performance is good, my contract with the Army of Champions, which runs until 2023, could be renewed.

My goal after Tokyo? Prepare for the Paris Games in 2024. After that, I think I will stop cycling in competition. I miss my job a lot, it's a big sacrifice not to work. I think that at 35, I will want to devote myself to it. There is also the financial aspect: as an athlete, my standard of living is much lower than what I could expect as a full-time doctor. If I settle in a practice, I will be able to have a stable daily life. And finally, build a life. “

* What exactly is the Army of Champions?

148 high-level athletes currently make up the Army of Champions. This system, created in 2003, allows them to devote almost all of their time to their discipline while being remunerated by the Ministry of the Armed Forces. These athletes meet two to three per year at the initiative of the National Center for Sportsmen of Defense (CNSD) to strengthen their cohesion and discover the values ​​and daily life of the military. They also participate in national and international military events and “To public relations operations external and internal to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, thus contributing to the influence of the armed forces”, underlines the ministry in a press release.

To note

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