By Tom Degun
December 16 - Ben Rushgrove (pictured) has reaped the rewards of his hard work off-the-track as he today received his Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Sports Performance from the prestigious University of Bath.
But for bright spark Rushgrove - who has cerebral palsy - the London 2012 Paralympic Games is now the primary objective.
The 21-year-old from Somerset - who received his degree along with over 700 Bath University students – is already a Paralympic medallist after claiming silver in the T36 100 metres at the Beijing 2008 Games in a time of 12.35sec with a broken foot.
But unfortunately for the Bath flyer, the same injury forced him to withdraw from his specialist event: the T36 200m.
Rushgrove holds the world record in T36 200 metres after he became the first athlete in the category to achieve a time under 25 seconds at the 2007 Paralympic World Cup.
And the potential London 2012 superstar - who earlier this year was voted the University of Bath Sports Personality of the Year – said that he is already excited about the prospect of competing at the 2012 Games.
Rushgrove told insideworldparasport: "When London 2012 comes round, I have no doubt that it will be the most amazing opportunity not just for me as the athlete, not just for athletics in general but for the whole of Great Britain.
"I'm not going to start predicting gold medals for myself at the Games or anything like that at this stage because you never know what is around the corner with injuries and things like that but I’m definitely looking forward to it."
Rushgrove (pictured) is coached at Bath University by research student Rob Ellchuk who works with a training group that includes disabled and able-bodied students and while Rushgrove is aware that he is widely tipped by the media to star at the London Paralympics, he admits that he tries not to focus on the pressure.
He said: "There is always going to be a lot of pressure on me after Beijing and I know that the pressure will continue to build as we get closer to the Games so it’s just about managing that pressure and not letting it get to me too much.
"A little bit of pressure is actually a good thing as it can help push you to the next level and as long as I can manage that heading into London, I can do very well.
"But when I look at the bigger picture of myself at London 2012, it is quite scary and I try not to think about it too often.
“However, there are rare moments when I do sit on the sofa at home and think, 'What am I doing?'
"But I am very proud of what I have done both on the track and academically and all I can do is just try and manage the pressure of expectation as best as I can."
Rushgrove admits that studying for a degree was a great way for him to focus on something other than athletics and now that he has graduated impressively with an Upper-Second Class Degree, he says he wants to find something else, off-the-track, which he can dedicate his time to.
"On-the-track, the schedule is based around the World Championships in New Zealand in 2011 and obviously London 2012; those are the two big goals for me right now.
"Off-the-track, things are a bit more complicated.
"I've got to find something to occupy my mind and though I considered doing a Masters Degree or going into coaching, we have decided that’s not really on the cards right now as it is too much combined with the training schedule I have.
"But at the same time, we have acknowledged that I need something other than athletics to focus on.
"In the immediate future I'm doing lots of talks in schools and I hope to get involved in a few more things with the University on the ambassadorial side but as long as I am keeping busy off-the-track, I am satisfied.”
Rushgrove also claimed that his own form seems to be going from strength to strength and at the perfect time with less than 1,000 days to go until the Paralympic Games kick off.
He said: "Without giving too much away, my times in training are looking very good in the sprints.
"And if I had to choose a favorite event, I would probably have to choose the 100 metres because it’s shorter even though the 200 metres is probably my better event.
"But I hope to do well in both events at the Paralympics in 2012."
Rushgrove has proved a role model for many students at the University and Nicky Fossey-Lewis, the Deputy Director of Training and Development in the University’s Department of Sports Development and Recreation said: "Ben is an inspirational example of how young athletes can combine the flexible academic opportunities at Bath with outstanding sporting achievement."
Rushgrove will continue to train at the University in the run-up to the London 2012 Games and will also be part of the British Paralympic team’s preparation camps to be hosted at the University in the build-up to the Games.
And never one to sit still, Rushgrove says he fully intends to help the University stage a fantastic training camp.
"It's a great honour for the University to be the British team’s preparation camp ahead of 2012 and hopefully I will be able to help the University a lot with that.
"It's a big responsibility for the University and one that will be taken very seriously.
"But whatever they need - be it media commitments or anything else - I will be there to help out as the University has been fantastic with me throughout my degree.
"They have allowed me to develop as a person and an athlete and I can't praise them enough.
“My University years have been some of the best years of my life and I hope that the future holds many more great years for me."
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