When Melanie Woods compares herself to just three years ago, the difference, both physically and mentally, could not be more stark.

Ahead of her Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Woods was a rookie of wheelchair racing having only taken up the sport a couple of years earlier following an accident in 2018 which left her paralysed.

Woods made her international debut at the European Para-Athletics Championships in 2021 and headed to her maiden Paralympics the same year merely happy to be in the team and harbouring few aspirations to challenge for silverware.

Fast-forward to today and Woods is an entirely different athlete, and one who knows that the next few months could change her athletic life entirely.

The 2024 Paralympics begin in Paris in just over three months’ time and Woods will head across the Channel with far loftier aspirations that those she took to Tokyo.

However, first on Woods’ agenda is the not insignificant matter of the World Para-Athletics Championships, which begin tomorrow in the Japanese city of Kobe.

The 29-year-old Glaswegian is part of a scaled-back 18-strong GB team for the event, with her fellow Scot Owen Miller also in the line-up.

World medallists Sammi Kinghorn, Maria Lyle and Ben Sandilands have all opted to sit out this competition as they focus on preparing for the Paralympics.

For Woods, however, travelling to these World Championships was an easy decision as she attempts to continue building her bank of experience at major championships.

“Some athletes aren’t going to Japan so it leaves it quite open but for me, it’ll be good to see what I can do,” says Woods, who will race the T54 400m, 800m and 1500m.

“The experience you get at a Championships is so different from anything else – for me, going out and racing fast is actually the easy part whereas at a Championships, there’s tactics and things at play so it felt like a no-brainer for me to go to these Worlds and gain more experience in that environment.”

The Herald:

Woods heads into this summer in the best shape of her life.

Having made several tweaks to her wheelchair and racing position last year, things are beginning to fall into place just at the right time and having set personal bests in all three of her favoured events already this year, her confidence is far from misplaced.

It is, though, her psychological state that is likely to make the biggest difference to the Scot.

Woods has learned many lessons in her five years as an elite wheelchair racer and now, those lessons are beginning to translate into making her a dangerous competitor on the global stage.

“Over the past few years, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to get the most out of myself. A few years ago, I’d just turn up every day and work hard and see improvements but now, I’m learning to be smarter and know when to go hard and when to pull back because you can’t push your body to its limit every day,” she says. 

“And the decisions I make in different race situations are better now. Having been through so many more scenarios and seeing how they play out, I’m now much more used to making those split-second decisions.

“Especially in the longer races, you have to deal with what everyone else is doing and in wheelchair racing, drafting is a huge thing so it’s about having your wits about you and knowing who’s behind you and who you’re behind. 

“The only way you learn about those things is by being in those championship races and getting it wrong, which I’ve done many times, but then that hopefully leads to getting it right. 

“I’ve had some absolute shockers where I’ve got those split-second decisions completely wrong but by building up a bank of different situations, I’ll hopefully get those decisions right when it really matters.”

Having spent the early years of her wheelchair racing career content to just be on the start line, Woods now wants to really make her mark and start picking up medals.

A podium place in Kobe over the next week would be, she admits, encouraging, but it’s Paris which is the ultimate target.

This Paralympic cycle brings with it considerably more pressure than the previous one ahead of Tokyo but she is, she believes, well-placed to handle that expectation.

And while she refuses to become consumed with thoughts of becoming a Paralympic medallist this summer, she admits the thought has crossed her mind.

“I think about winning a medal in Paris but I try to focus more on short-term goals,” she says.

“But when it’s cold and wet and I’ve to go outside and do a hard session, I remind myself that it’ll be worth it once I get to Paris. 

“I don’t let myself get carried away thinking about the possibilities but these huge moments are why I’m racing, so I’d be lying if I said I’m not getting really excited about it.”