Nothing will stop Paralympian Chris Pitt from competing in Tokyo – not even tongue cancer
Nine months ago Chris Pitt had half of his tongue removed and was told he wouldn’t be able to board a plane to Tokyo let alone be fit enough to compete at the Paralympics, he replied “watch me”.
The 56-year-old Paralympic shooter has had his dreams crushed many times before but he was not going to let it happen again.
As a young boy Pitt was a promising swimmer – many in his home town of Bundaberg had earmarked him as a future Olympic star.
A few months after his 10th birthday his times in the pool began to slow, training was getting harder and some days he struggled to climb up the ladder to get out.
After months of medical tests and long stints in hospital Pitt was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition called dermatomyositis.
The disease attacked every muscle in his body, left him with a rash on his skin and calcium deposits grew on his muscles and connective tissues.
It is fatal to many but Pitt battled through. He was not able to repair the damage done and by the age of 12 he was in a wheelchair.
He thought his dream of representing Australia was dashed.
Then in 2009 a couple of wheelchair mates convinced Pitt to try pistol shooting with them.
“I grew up on a cane farm and there was always a rifle on the farm, so I wasn’t afraid of guns. I did join a club when I was in high school for two years but went away from it,” Pitt said.
“We went out to the pistol club and I thought to myself, how can you miss?
“When I did miss it lit something inside me and I said give me more bullets, I was addicted instantly.
“I just wanted to work out what you had to do to shoot in the middle of the target.”
It takes most athletes four to eight years to be competitive internationally – Pitt was ready after 18 months.
During an Oz Cup competition in 2012, Pitt was pulled aside for a chat by former Australian Commonwealth Games pistol athlete, Peter Heuke, after an impressive performance where he scored a world class score of 572.
In order to chase his dreams, he sold his fishing tinny for $4000 and bought two tickets to compete in Sydney and a case of ammunition.
Pitt shot his way onto the Australian Paralympic team in time to compete in Rio in 2016.
He qualified for the final but lost the bronze medal shoot-off match to Korea’s Lee Ju-hee.
“I’m definitely looking forward to my second Games, I always said I wanted to go to a second one after Rio and it is finally here,” Pitt said.
“The atmosphere of the whole Games just made me so much more determined to go to another one.”
Not even being diagnosed with stage three tongue cancer in October 2020 was going to stop him.
“I knew something was wrong all through 2020 but they didn’t diagnose it until October. Three weeks later I was in Brisbane having a 14-hour surgery to remove half of my tongue,” Pitt said.
Surgeons took a piece out of Pitt’s leg and grafted it on to his tongue. He then had to endure 30 radiation treatments in six weeks.
“The doctors told me I’d have to have a feeding tube and that I’d be too fatigued to drive to and from appointments. There was no way I was having a feeding tube again so I battled through that and said ‘watch me’,” he said.
“The goal of getting to Tokyo is what helped me through my cancer treatment.”
Pitt had to live on pureed food for months – his ability to eat and speak has been permanently altered.
“It took five months of decent training away from me and these last few months have really been a race against time to get back to where I was,” Pitt said.
“I am close to where I was physically, there are still some small improvements to be made, but shooting is mainly a mental game.”
Pitt will compete in the P1 men’s 10m air pistol and the P3 mixed 25m pistol.
“I’m trying to keep expectation out of it as that is a huge killer, I just need to shoot my process and keep my nerves under control,” he said. “If I can stay calm I feel the result will come.”
The men’s P1 10m air pistol qualification shoot is on August 31. The P3 mixed 25m pistol qualifying event is on September 2.
Originally published as Nothing will stop Paralympian Chris Pitt from competing in Tokyo – not even tongue cancer
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