Did you know much about MS when you were diagnosed?
I knew bits about MS because when I was a first year physiotherapy student I spent a week at a specialist neurology centre and worked with people who have MS. However, they were at the more severe end of the MS spectrum and I knew little about any other form. You don’t really think that something like this is going to happen to you. I’ve competed all my life, so at one point I thought that this was the end to me being involved in sport. However, with the determination I’ve shown on and off the track throughout my life, I made sure that this was just a small blip on the road to something special.
Were there any challenges in making the transition into being a para-sport athlete?
Having been a track athlete before, I had to cope with the realisation that I wouldn’t be running as quickly as I was before the MS struck. That was probably the most difficult thing to accept, but I’ve realised that things are different now and whether I’m running 11.5 or 13.5 seconds I know I am pushing my body to its absolute limit.
When did you set your sights on Rio 2016?
When I knew I was eligible, Rio was always going to be the focus. Para-sport has come on leaps and bounds over the last four or five years, so by no means did I think it would be a case of simply turning up to the track or velodrome. I have had to put in hard work to get to where I am now, even when I’ve had days where I’ve particularly struggled with my MS. I know that my competition will be leaving no stone unturned, so I’ve got to do the same to ensure I’m on the podium this summer.
How has the preparation gone?
Preparation has gone well so far – I’ve won gold medals in both cycling and athletics major championships and started the season strongly this year. MS throws up a lot of challenges, so working with medical teams I’ve found solutions to best combat weakness areas. For example, when it’s too warm, I have ice strategies which stabilise my muscle spasms.
Who inspires you?
If you ask many people within the sport they will say their biggest inspiration is David Weir. He’s brought disability sport to the next level, creating a pathway for the next generation of athletes like myself to take it to new heights. He has achieved everything in the sport and is a great role model for any aspiring or elite sportsman/woman. Even approaching the tail end of his career, he remains right at the top and that’s the grit and determination that I admire so greatly.
You studied physiotherapy at university – is this something you plan to do professionally?
Yes, physiotherapy has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I will no doubt go back and finish my degree. I have a particular interest in cerebral palsy and would like to do research into the benefits of childhood physical activity. Then eventually open my own clinic which ties in my love for sport with enabling people with disabilities to push the boundaries in sport as well as their day to day life.
How have physiotherapists helped you as an athlete and in everyday life?
They have helped me manage my condition better. Finding what are the triggers and then the coping strategies have enabled me to compete at the highest level. MS is very complex, but through the expert advice I receive from both British Athletics and British Cycling, it’s helped me get to where I am now.
What would be your advice to a young person who’s just been diagnosed with MS?
The best advice I can give is don’t let MS stop you from achieving what you want to in life.
This interview is part of the August 2016 issue of our free quarterly newsletter, Open Door. Sign up for your free copy.