Natalie Bieule is ranked third in the world in the discus F44 this season heading into the IPC Athletics World Championships, which take place from Oct. 21-31 in Doha, Qatar.
But she probably doesn’t know that.
Because this year, the two-time reigning national champion thrower has refused to watch her competitors or look at the rankings.
“I told myself that I needed to stop that because it’s not about other peoples’ performances, it’s about my own performance,” Bieule said.
“I’ve stopped checking up on what other people are doing because I thought that was messing with my head every time I would get in the ring. Ever since I’ve been doing that, that’s when my numbers started to significantly change. My numbers just started going up.”
And whom does she have to thank for telling her to make the change?
None other than Paralympic champion sprinter April Holmes, the same person who originally introduced her to track and field.
Bieule, who grew up a devoted dancer in Pembroke Pines, Florida, had her right leg amputated below the knee after being hit by a drunk driver in 2001, when she was just 18 years old.
When she met Holmes at an amputee convention in 2013, it was as if Bieule had been waiting for several years to find a way to get involved in Paralympic sport.
Holmes wasted no time integrating Bieule into the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field program. Five-time Paralympian Scott Danberg stepped in as her coach, helping the avid crossfitter master the discus in what felt like the snap of a finger.
But the mental aspects of the sport have proven to be a massive challenge for Bieule.
And that’s where Holmes steps in, always, always, always using the word “execute” when advising Bieule.
Time to execute. Go out there and execute. Forget everything else and just execute.
“That’s helped me forget about what other people are doing and reminded me to focus on me,” Bieule said. “She’s the one that made me see that.”
Bieule’s 2015 season started off rough, though. After giving birth to her second daughter on March 3, it took Bieule a while to fully recover from her C-section until she was able to hit her target marks again.
By the time the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field National Championships rolled around in June, she was able to win gold with a season-best throw of 28.30 meters.
She relapsed a little bit at August’s Parapan American Games in Toronto, her first international event and the longest amount of time she’s spent away from her two daughters. Her throw of 27.75 meters put her in sixth place in a combined class event.
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to do because I let other things distract me,” Bieule said.
“It was a little bit difficult for me to leave the baby when traveling. April was one of those people that’s honestly become a really good friend of mine and helps cope with the process of making my kids proud and becoming an example for them. That’s helped me tremendously.”
The patient veteran constantly reminds the impatient newcomer why she’s doing this, telling her to enjoy the ride and that ultimately she’ll reach her destination.
“My inspiration is my daughters,” Bieule said. “I hope to make them proud. That’s my No. 1 thing. I do what I do because I want them to never look at mommy as someone missing a leg. I want them to look at mommy as someone who is strong and overcame something everyone thought she wouldn’t.
“To ease my mind, I now picture them in my head right before I go to compete. Once I get into that ring, I just completely disassociate. I can’t think about them when I’m in that ring. As weird as that may sound, I’d get sentimental and distracted and my muscles would tense up if I thought about them.”
Holmes will also be in Doha this week, competing in the 100- and 200-meter T44 sprints, and she’ll be rooming with Bieule, who is now a Paralympic ambassador for the Hartford.
“Knowing that she’s going to be at Doha has completely relaxed my mind,” Bieule said. “It made me really happy that we’re going to be rooming together, because whenever I get into a sentimental mood, she’ll get me cracking up and then I’m good to go.”
“Personality wise, we have a good time together. We’re both clowns, and I think that’s why we like being roommates. We have some good laughs.”
So come Oct. 25, Bieule should be relaxed and ready to execute in the ring.
Ready to execute for her daughters, Ava and Valentina.
“Hopefully, I’ll come back with a new personal record, and more importantly, a medal, so that my girls can see that mommy’s work is not in vein and I’m setting an example for them and working hard to make them proud,” Bieule said.
Watch Bieule compete on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 9:30 a.m. ET via a free live stream at USParalympics.org
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.