Q&A: Long jumper Stef Reid & wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos open up on their relationship

Stef Reid and Brent Lakatos are attending their fourth Paralympics together in their 13th year of marriage. The pair talk about the evolution of their relationship and potential plans for life after athletics.

After meeting in 2005, Canada's wheelchair Brent Lakatos was determined to take Great Britain's long jumper Stefanie Reid out.

But it wasn't as straight forward as Lakatos had hoped, with Reid adamant that they would never date.

That didn't stop the Canadian from trying, though, and 16 years later, the pair are enjoying their 13th year marriage.

Reid and Lakatos are participating in their fourth Paralympic Games at Tokyo 2020 since being together.

Talking exclusively with Olympics.com, the duo reveal all on how they met, hopes for Tokyo and more.

Olympics.com: So, how did you both meet?

Stef Reid (SR): We met at a track and field meeting in 2005. I had started my career quite late and already been in it for quite a long time, so that's how we first met.

Brent Lakatos (BL): In 2005, I saw Stephanie at a track competition for the first time in Canada. We were both living in Canada at that point, and I saw a pretty girl stretching on the track.

Olympics.com: Was there a spark immediately?

BL: That depends who you ask! For me yes, for Stephanie, no.

SR: For me, I was in my 20s and I was just just starting my athletic career and I was also at university on an academic scholarship. And so my life was very, very busy at that point and I thought, I have enough time for school, I have enough time to start training. I just don't have time for anything else extra. And so it wasn't that I didn't like Brent necessarily. I thought, you were a nice guy. I just wasn't looking to date anybody. But Brent is very direct when he races and he's very direct when he's interested in something. So he was very direct and asked me out and I had to say no.

Olympics.com: So, what convinced you in the end?

SR: Well, like I said, Brent is a very persistent guy and you tried pretty much everything.

BL: I didn't stop asking. [laughs]

SR: For the next year. Brent would call occasionally. He'd send really thoughtful emails, lots of things, but I still wasn't interested. So then the next summer we were both on the racing circuit again and I actually do remember one meet, I was actually introduced, as Stephanie McLeod-Reed, instead of Stephanie Reid, and he didn't know I had a middle name. And so he panicked thought I'd got married at some point and he'd missed out. But they just put my middle name and he just kept asking.

SR: I think probably the best thing he did was, in 2006, we were both going to the world championships, even though Brent was flying because he was living in Texas at that point, he had called the travel agents to request the seat ticketed next to me on the flight without even asking me just to make sure he was going to have eight hours of my undivided attention, on the way there and the way back - which he did. On the flight back, about 40 minutes from landing, he asked me out again and this time I just thought, OK, I don't ever want to be leading anyone on and so I had to be super clear. I just said Brent, I think you're really great, but we are never, ever, ever going to date. Ever.

About three weeks later, I got another call from Brent saying, you know, I'm really sorry, things got a bit awkward, but I’d rather be friends than nothing. Do you want to come down to Dallas to visit me? At that point I was living in Vancouver, I didn't know anybody and it would be great to see a friend. So I said, yes, that on the condition that he could not ask me out at any point during the weekend.

BL: There was an email with a list of rules I had to follow.

SR: There was a list of rules. I really believe in being clear and I didn't want to go under false pretences. But by the end of the weekend, I asked Brent out and we were together ever since.

Olympics.com: How do you help each other even though you're doing different sports?

BR: It's really great to be with somebody who's also a high performance athlete, and knows the demands that that takes. And so when she needs space, I'll give her space. When she needs support, I'll try and support her, vice versa. If you go to a competition and it's really intense and the other person, you just need a little bit of support in this particular area, but not too much. And if there's a bad day of training or something, one person might be off but we understand why that is. And it's just because of the high performance, really stressful nature of sport.

SR: I think it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword and I think some people miss that. On the one hand, it's great. We're both going to be in the Tokyo village and especially here when there's no friends and family. But then when it becomes a bit of a double edged sword, I think sometimes what you see is there is an element where we both have to be very selfish. It's not easy doing what we do. And you have to make sure on the one hand you're taking care of what you need to take care of. But on the other hand, you're also looking after the person. And it's kind of like when do you draw that line?

Olympics.com: Are there any moments when it gets complicated to combine private life and professional life in that sense? You've previously said there was a moment in your life where you wouldn't see a lot of each other and actually the Paralympic village was like the only place where you saw each other the most. Was that a big challenge?

BL: Yeah, that's why I'm in the U.K. right now, because I lived in Dallas, I worked in Dallas. And when Stephanie started with her coach over in the U.K., the first year it was supposed to be a couple of training camps a year, a competition over here, and she'd be back in Dallas the rest of the time, but it ended up being four months that year that she was gone. The next year was five months, the year after that was six months. So it was either move or something has to change because I wasn't even seeing my wife.

SR: That was in the build up to London 2012. Obviously a home Paralympics for me was a big deal. It's OK to spend some time apart from your partner, but too much and it's just not going to work out. After 2012 we knew that we needed to make a decision if we were going to move forward and try again for 2016, we couldn't keep living the way that we were. So Brent left sunny Dallas and came to train in England.

Olympics.com: How would you say your relationship has evolved through this year in that sense? Moving countries, moving cities, going through some challenges.

SR: This is our 13th year of marriage - I think one of the challenges was I was really young when we got married. I think because where we got married, our lives have changed so much and I think the space between 23 to 30 you just change a lot as a person and so you're constantly having to navigate and kind of reconnect, bearing in mind each of us is changing, but also our careers changed. I don't think either of us, when we first got married, envisioned being full time athletes. We've experienced success along the way and that changes things as well and you just have to keep navigating that and also it's so rare as a couple you experience success at the same point and so you're constantly navigating like 'I've not done very well and it sucks and I just want to go and have a tantrum', and at the same time 'actually, Brent has done amazing and I just need to put myself aside, slap on a smile and go and celebrate'. And it's happened the other way around as well. I'm pretty proud of how we've navigated everything I think we did a really good job.

Olympics.com: Brent, you've won many medals and world titles in sprint. So what made you switch to marathons? How hard was the transition?

BL: Well, I guess it started in Rio. I was going into Rio hoping to win three gold medals potentially, and I came away with one in the 100m. But in the longer sprints there, I was actually beaten quite handily by someone from Thailand, someone from France unexpectedly. So I made a change in my equipment to try and eke out a little bit more speed - I don't know that it may be faster anyway, but it's it made me much more efficient in terms of pushing. And later that year, really, really unexpectedly, I set the world record in the 1500m, which I wasn't even planning on entering. The way I set the world record wasn't with a very high top speed or anything like that, it was just by being consistent over the length of the race. Wheelchair racing is usually in a peloton and sprint so it's not like running a 1500m, so with that consistent speed, I thought, well, you know, how can I apply that to the maximum effect? And if it's a really consistent speed that's high, there's nothing better than a long race, a 5000m or a marathon, or something like that. I started training that just to see if my theory was correct. And later I did a marathon with a really good competitive field and I was able to stay with the peloton, with the race until the final sprint. So, the next year I decided to kind of commit fully to the longer events and as it's gone on from there. Each year I have been improving and I think this will be my best year yet in the marathon.

Olympics.com: Stef, what about you? You started with rugby and then went into running, and then the long jump. Will we see you doing a different sport one day?

SR: Oh, that is a very interesting question! I love the long jump. I think the reality is that it's really hard on your body - there there will definitely be an end point for that just because at some point I want to be able to walk away and still do sports. Interestingly, when lockdown first started in 2020 - I'm really into baking, love baking - and I just kind of accepted you know what I'm just going to bake and enjoy, I am probably going to put on weight and I'll just pull it off. It'll be fine, which is what I did.

So I actually started doing some of the training with Brent for his marathon and I hopped on a bike and I thought oh this could be super fun. I got dropped and I was really upset in my athlete ego took a serious hit when I could not keep up with him. However, bearing in mind I had a very old bike, it was heavy. But I did get better! And then I was finally able to keep up. I mean, sport will always, always be a part of my life. I love it so much. And I think the experience of having to spend a period where, during the amputation, where I couldn't do anything, that was so hard. But I knew from that moment I will never take things like walking or cycling or running for granted and I will always find a way to be fit and stay active because I just love it.

Olympics.com: If you guys could pick one favourite Paralympic or Olympic memory so far, what would it be?

SR: I think one of the moments that always sticks out for me was in 2008 and it was the Australian pole vaulter [Steve Hooker] who came in and he knew he was injured, he knew he had one jump to win - he bided his time and he went for it and he cleared it and he won. And I have just always looked at that moment and just thought to have that kind of nerve and that kind of self belief, that has always really, really impressed me.

BL: I don't know, I'm hoping to make memories in Tokyo, but if we're talking about the Paralympics in general, in 2008, I was team-mates with Chantal Petitclerc who's a Canadian female wheelchair racer, and we were coached by the same coach, we went to the same training camps. And so I knew Chantal quite well and we were friends and she's just a really great person, but she's a really, really good wheelchair racer. And so in the 2008 Paralympics, she was able to win the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m, she set a couple of world records and she just absolutely dominated female wheelchair racing that year. I just really looked up to her. She was really nice to everyone, at the same time being very professional and taking care of everything she needed to do and everything was planned out and just really well executed. And so that'll stick with me for a while.

Stef Reid celebrating
Picture by 2017 Getty Images

Olympics.com: What would you like the world to perceive the Paralympics as?

BL: Every sport has its own niche, right? And the Paralympics are never going to be the Olympics. It's not as big as the Olympics is, not as many athletes as that sort of thing. But I think what the Paralympics do have is really, really great athletes with a very interesting story to tell. And so you can watch the sport learn about the athlete, be inspired by the difficulties that pretty much every single Paralympian has overcome, whether it's injury, whether it's they were born like that. There's lots of mental struggles from people who are different, being bullied in school. There's lots of physical struggles from people overcoming stuff, medical stories, amazing accidents from being shark attacks to everything. So it's just I think it will make a really great human story on top of the elite sport that exists in the Paralympics.

SR: I feel like yeah, I would agree with that. I understand where a lot of athletes are coming from in that they want to just be about the sport as opposed to the story. But I think the story is one of our greatest assets. I think everybody around the world can relate to an underdog story and they want that. And when you watch the Paralympics, I mean, yes, you are seeing amazing athletes and I think what people also realise is that for most of us, growing up with disabilities in our generation we were never looked at as people who were going to excel in sport, as people who are considered to be strong or confident or sporty, and yet you're going to see them on the world stage doing exactly that, defying expectations. And everybody around the world can relate to that. And yes, that is powerful and that is amazing. Being called a superhero is not a bad thing. I think what it comes from is just a place of respect and I think also I can see both sides of it because I spent quite a significant part of my life able-bodied. So, when people talk about the story, like I say, it comes from a place of good intent and that's where they're at right now. And I think it's important to honour that and embrace it. It is what makes our sport special and unique.

Brent Lakatos getting faster and faster
Picture by LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04: (FREE FOR EDITORIAL USE ON BEHALF OF LONDON MARATHON.) Brent Lakatos of Canada celebrates as he crosses the finish line in first place in the Wheelchair race during the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon around St. James's Park on October 04, 2020 in London, England. The 40th Race will take place on a closed-loop circuit around St. James’s Park in central London. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)

Olympics.com: Stef, the accident happened when you were 16 - that must have been difficult to navigate when you're still a teenager. Did you feel any anger at that moment? Did you feel angry at the world? How did you come back from that to be doing all the amazing things you are doing now?

SR: Yes, it was it was really difficult for two reasons: One, I love sport. My life goal at that point was to be an international rugby superstar. That was what I wanted to do and it just felt really unfair to have that taken away and then the other part that was, yes, it was a 15 year old girl going through puberty. You just want to be normal and the last thing that you need is a very visible disability. So I was stuck in a very... it was a dark place, but I think I was almost caught between I'm so angry at the world and yet I'm so thankful that I'm still alive. It took a really long time to get past that, and actually the thing that brought me out of that was sport again and at the beginning, sport looked very different. I no longer bounced onto the rugby pitch or the basketball court, you know, super confident and feeling like I had something to offer. I was not so confident and I had this new artificial leg I had no idea how to use, it was a very different space. But I think it just taught me that there's so much more to sport than just the elite end and yes, the Olympics and Paralympics are amazing, but sports in and of itself, even if you're terrible at it, is still worthwhile and it can still change your life and it can still help you grow.

Olympics.com: And Brent, how did you deal with your accident?

BL: I had an accident when I was six and it resulted in me being paralysed. But, as a six year old, you don't really understand what's going on. I knew something was wrong. I knew I couldn't use my legs, obviously. But I think mentally it's easier when something like that happens at a young age. Obviously, I was really upset and and I cried and my parents consoled me. But when you're six, I think you just adapt to things more quickly than going through it as a 15-year-old or as an adult, it's probably even more difficult. I was in the hospital for a couple of months, and then I came home in a wheelchair. At first my friends were a little nervous around me, but they were also six and so they just got used to it really quickly as well. And so I still had my two best friends who were close to me and life went on. And we did sports and maybe I was the pitcher in baseball instead of one of the outfielders. For me it was, I think, a lot easier just because of the age.

Olympics.com: What are your goals for Tokyo right now having gone through so many Paralympics already? Obviously a medal, but do you set yourself any other goals and what are they?

SR: Every Paralympics have been really different and it's been a different challenge because, again, you just changed so much as a person as you go on and you have to almost update your approach and what you're doing. For me, this Paralympics has probably been one of the most difficult ones to prepare for. I just had two really difficult injuries in twenty nineteen that caused me to miss out on the world championships. And it kind of knocked my confidence a little bit in terms of I was just scared to go out and do it again just because both times it happened in competition and they were freak accidents and it's really hard to erase them from your head. I think as you get older as an athlete as well, it's like your self-preservation instinct gets stronger so it's really hard to fight those things out. So for me, actually having the Tokyo Paralympics pushed back was really helpful in terms of my rehabilitation and getting back to form. But this one in particular, I'm just really committed to enjoying it and doing it on my terms. And yes, obviously there's always a medal that you want, you always want a PB, but I think on top of that, I just really want to do this one my way and on my terms.

BL: This Paralympics, I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in my life, I think I'm the strongest. I think my training has been the best, equipment is the best, and I've been able to perfect lots of things across many different distances. I'm doing six different distances, I think it's possible that I can win any of them. Obviously winning all of them would be a dream and so I'm going to say that's my goal but I don't know if that's possible. I mean, it's possible, but it's not likely.

Olympics.com: And Paris 2024 is only three years away now, will you continue going forward after? Have you thought about it already?

SR: We're not committing to anything. I mean, we've talked about it a little bit, but, you know, we have different ideas on some aspects but we're going to save this conversation for afterwards. I thought that was the best.

BL: Yeah, we don't know what will happen between now and Paris.

SR: We'll tackle that after.

Olympics.com: And what about after the athletics career - what are some of your ambitions or do you imagine yourself always staying in sports?

SR: I know Brent wants to be lazy [laughs]. However, what he has done in the past three years, you know, bearing in mind Brent does consult with other coaches and he does consult with engineers, but he has spearheaded the design of his chair, he spearheaded his training. Brent has an engineering background, he has everything he needs physically, he's got the design background and he's able to kind of tackle that. So it really is a perfect combination. I suspect he's going to go that way, but maybe he just needs to chill out.

Olympics.com: And you also studied biochemistry yourself, so you also have that kind of scientific experience in that sense.

SR: I think it's both an advantage and a disadvantage. I mean, the reality is very, very few Paralympians are making their money from the sport and there's not a lot of prize money. And so, you know, both Brent and I never expected to be in a position where we'd be doing this full time so we've always kind of brought our careers along alongside us. But I've been really lucky to have opportunities outside of sport, which I've really enjoyed like cooking, a little bit of broadcasting, I do a bit of speaking on the sides and sort of moving a bit more to sport governance. And so there's lots of things there and it's just kind of figuring out which one. Actually, right now I'm studying to be an executive coach, which is really exciting. So we'll see! That's going to be lots of options and that's probably one of the great things about sport - you get exposed to so many things.

Brent Lakatos
Picture by 2015 Getty Images

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