Hannah Cockroft's Message

Twice victorious in the Mini London Marathon, Cockroft now has two Paralympic gold medals and four IPC World Championship gold medals to her name over the 100 and 200m T34 disciplines.

My sporting interest was ignited when I was thirteen years old. Throughout my childhood, I attended mainstream schools but as the only disabled child PE was difficult to be involved with, due to a lack of knowledge, equipment and experience in the schools. When I moved to secondary school, although the situation was still the same, my PE teacher had personal contact with the local wheelchair basketball coach and after they were invited to give a demonstration at our school, a whole world of Paralympic sport was opened up to me. Although sport had always been something that interested me, as my family were very involved with football and rugby, it was always something that seemed inaccessible so when the opportunity arose with an invitation to train with the Cardinals wheelchair sports club, my parents were only too happy to drive me to and from each training session and match. Being involved with the club opened other doors too, with chances to try wheelchair rugby and tennis. This then lead to my schools realisation that I was more than willing to try anything once, and so they began to give me more freedom in my PE lessons, starting with the throwing events in athletics. They were actually very easy lessons to adapt so that I could join in; the only difference was that I sat in my wheelchair, whilst the other children stood. Other than that, I could throw the discus and shot put just as far, if not further than my classmates. And so I began to enter throwing competitions, eventually being selected to represent Yorkshire and Humberside at the UK School Games in 2007. After winning a silver medal at the event, I was invited to a UK Athletics talent ID day, where I was introduced to Dr Ian Thompson and the discipline that was eventually going to take me to the London 2012 Paralympic games. At first, I was hesitant to get into a racing wheelchair, it looked so big and uncomfortable but with some encouragement from my parents and the coaches there, it was the best seat I had ever taken. The racing chair gave me a new sense of speed, independence and adrenaline that basketball had never given me and I immediately fell in love. Ian agreed to coach me, lending me a chair until I could raise enough money to get my own and starting me on the path to becoming a champion.

Looking back, 26th April 2009 was really the beginning of my career as an elite athlete. At sixteen years old, I was about to take part in my first road race, the London Mini Wheelchair Marathon. Although the race is only the last three miles of the marathon course, it was still the longest race I’d ever competed in and I knew there were some strong competitors in the mix, who had been racing a lot longer than me. It was also my first televised event adding to the mounting nerves on race day. But I knew that I could only do my best and as I was a fresh face on the scene, there was no pressure on my performance, except from my constant self-expectation to win. But the sunshine Gods were with us, and as the horn sounded, there was a surge of movement on the start line and I was soon at the front of the pack with the boys. I don’t remember much from the race, as I kept my head down and just followed the road, but I do remember the amazing amount of support you received on route. Every mile of barrier was lined with people up to ten lines deep, and of course being the first girl out the blocks blew the cheers up more. Although it was a tough race, the noise really carried you along, and aside from the Paralympic games, I have never received support quite as overwhelming as I did that day. Still, crossing the line was a relief, a chance to catch breath, have a drink and soak up the booming atmosphere that echoes down the Mall. Only when a volunteer at the end of the race told me I had won the girls event did I actually realise my achievement and I think that was the moment that made me thirsty for victory. The cheering crowds as I crossed the line and when I received my trophy were so loud; it made me feel euphoric and invincible.

For a whole year, I looked forward to what unfortunately had to be my last London Mini Wheelchair Marathon, and after another win, I was only just beginning my lucky streak but too old to continue it. But the atmosphere there was something I continued to search for; at every track meet and road race I did from that day forward, with nothing quite equalling it until I lined up on the start line in the theatre of dreams. And now, I’ll search for it again, but deep down, I know that the only place I will eventually find it, will be on route of the full 26.2 mile course, which I am determined to tackle, one day.

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