“I always knew that I could do whatever I set my mind on, and that being in a wheelchair wasn’t going to stop me,” he said. “My parents were very encouraging and pushed me to do things even when I didn’t want to.”
These days he pushes himself. Hard. His goal? Top the podium at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
According to his wife, fellow Paralympic athlete Stefanie Reid, the term “para” does not refer to paralysis. It is short for “parallel,” meaning the Paralympics take place alongside the Olympics.
Like their Olympic counterparts, Lakatos and Reid train constantly, eat purposefully, and have a burning desire to win.
Unlike non-disabled Olympians, their equipment is much more expensive. His racing wheelchairs cost $2-5,000 and her running prostheses approaches $12,000. Prize money is less, and mainstream commercial endorsements are few if any.
Lakatos was an athlete as a young boy, but a freak accident while ice skating at age six left him paralyzed below the waist.
“My parents refused to allow the school system to move me to an all-handicapped school. Being the only kid in school with a disability forced me to adapt to life as it came,” he explained.
His excellence in academics opened college doors for Lakatos, but the athletic scholarship made him realize how far sports could take him.
Since landing a full-ride scholarship to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Texas at Arlington, he has become a Dallas transplant. But as a Canadian native, he will wear the red maple leaf on the Paralympic track.
“Basketball was my first love, but I am a better racer,” he said in his quiet, unassuming way.
In the world of disabled athletes, a variety of classifications are used to place athletes in the fairest competition possible according to the kind or degree of disability they have.
Lakatos was misclassified.
“The 2004 Paralympics changed my racing career. It was the first time I received international classification and went from a T54 who struggled in the quarterfinals to a T53 who ranked top three in the world,” he said.
He took a sabbatical from his job as a software developer for Daisy Brand dairy products to train full time for Beijing, but the results were disappointing.
“I got a fifth and sixth in my events. I just wasn’t on my game. But I decided that it wasn’t going to happen again,” he insisted.
Lakatos returned to his job with Daisy but continued his training.
Three mornings a week, Lakatos’ specially designed racing wheelchair whizzes through the streets of the University Meadows neighborhood, his hands protected by huge, boxer-like gloves. He uses the St. Mark’s School track on Wednesdays.
His daily routine starts at 5 a.m. “or as late as possible” because he is not a morning person. He works in the office from 6-10, trains from 10-noon so his breakfast won’t make an un-scheduled appearance, eats, showers, then returns to work from 4-6.
“My times are better now with less training, so that seems to work for me,” he smiled.
Lakatos trains by himself. He has no coach nearby or teammates to urge him on.
“I don’t really like training. Getting started is the hardest part, but it’s just something I do six days a week. I stay motivated by remembering what (the games) are like. I want to win! And London might be my last because you’re not going to make a living at wheelchair racing,” he said.
Sometimes he gets to train with his wife, whom he met at the Beijing Paralympics. A tubing accident when she was 16 took her right foot. As an England native, she will run track for the “home team” in London and spends much of her time lately training with them.
“I really admire the way that Brent has been able to combine a challenging, successful career with being a world-class athlete,” she said. “He is also an incredible, loving husband. He works so hard and balances so many things and is still able to be a rock and support for me. He’s pretty amazing!”
Athletes like Lakatos and Reid can thank a doctor named Ludwig Guttman from post-World War II England. Guttman organized the 1948 International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. His dream of worldwide sports for people with disabilities became a reality with the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
Today, the games include 21 sports and 4,200 athletes. According to paralympiceducation.ca, competitors are grouped according to six general types of disability: persons with visual impairments, with physical disabilities, amputees, people with cerebral palsy, those with spinal cord injuries, and Les Autres athletes whose disability does not fall in other categories.
The London 2012 Paralympic Games run from Aug. 29 – Sept. 9. Lakatos’ events are the T53 400-meter on Sept 2, 100-meter on Sept. 3, the 800-meter on Sept 4 and 5, the 200-meter on Sept. 7 and possibly the 4x400-meter relay on Sept 8. The International Paralympic Committee is making all their events viewable online at Paralympic.org. There will be no network coverage in the United States, so watch all the events on their website.
For more information about all events and stories related to the Paralympic Games, visit Paralympic.org.
If you know someone White Rock Lake Weekly should feature as a Meet Your Neighbor, contact Lucy Higginbotham at lucy@