Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

World Para Athletics Championships: Hurricane Hannah set to take Dubai by storm

Telling the British Paralympian ‘no’ has always been a big mistake

Hannah Cockcroft celebrates winning gold in the Women's 800m T34 at the IPC World ParaAthletics Championships 2017 in London. S Bardens - British Athletics
Hannah Cockcroft celebrates winning gold in the Women's 800m T34 at the IPC World ParaAthletics Championships 2017 in London. S Bardens - British Athletics

Five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft has spent her life proving people wrong.

Growing up in Yorkshire, she was told not to play sports.

Instead, the Briton has powered past prejudice to earn the nickname Hurricane Hannah for the records she has since smashed.

I had so many people growing up who said, ‘Hannah you can’t do this, Hannah you can’t do that.’ I don’t like being told that I can’t do something

Hannah Cockroft, Paralympian

This includes 10 world titles in races from 100m to 1,500m in the T34 wheelchair sprint classification for athletes with cerebral palsy.

“I had so many people growing up who said, ‘Hannah you can’t do this, Hannah you can’t do that.’ I don’t like being told that I can’t do something,” said the 27-year-old, who tried wheelchair racing for the first time at the age of 15.

Steadfast in her battle to take the ill informed head-on, she has dominated the T34 class since she broke nine world records in 2010.

“I was told that sport wasn’t for me and that I shouldn’t be a part of it. Now I’m a Paralympian and a professional athlete, so sport is for anybody if they want to try it.”

Her mother pushed back when authorities recommended Ms Cockroft be sent to a ‘disabled school’ instead of the mainstream school her brothers attended.

Eventually accepted in, she recalls facing “massive barriers.”

“Once I was there, they didn’t want me to join PE lessons which is why I always stayed away from sport until the time I was a teenager,” she told The National in an interview.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Hannah Cockcroft of Great Britain celebrates after setting a new world record in the Women's 100m T34 final during the IPC World ParaAthletics Championships 2017 at London Stadium on July 14, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by S Bardens - British Athletics/British Athletics via Getty Images)
Cockcroft celebrates after setting a new world record in the Women's 100m T34 at the IPC World ParaAthletics Championships 2017 in London. S Bardens - British Athletics

Tackling other people’s perceptions of disability also coloured her own experiences of wanting to fit in instead of being viewed as ‘different.’

Two heart attacks at birth had left her with multiple areas of brain damage. Her underdeveloped feet and legs caused mobility and balance issues.

Sport helped Ms Cockroft claim her own space.

“It made me accept my wheelchair a lot more,” she said.

“Before this, I wanted to walk, I wanted to walk to be like anybody else. I was scared of my wheelchair. Sports showed me wheelchairs are cool, they are acceptable and actually make you

much more independent.”

The string of accolades has not dulled her thirst for gold.

Ms Cockroft comes into the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai having finished second for the first time in her sporting career last year.

“I didn’t really enjoy the experience,” she said about being handed the silver medal in the T34 100m at the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championship in Berlin.

Part of a 43-strong British para-athletic track and field team, Ms Cockroft will compete in the 100m and 800m.

She nurses a razor-sharp ambition to reclaim the top spot in the games next week.

“The motivation is that I enjoy winning. I love the feeling of going across the line first.”

Her advice to parents is to encourage young children with disabilities to take up a sport.

“Sport is massively important for people with disabilities,” she said.

“It teaches you a lot of skills, how to communicate with people, teamwork and eventually may help you travel the world like it did for me. It has made me a lot stronger and allowed me to do things I never thought I would be able to do.”

The World Para Athletics Championships begins in Dubai on Thursday and runs until November 15.

Updated: November 7, 2019 10:00 AM

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