Interview with gold medal winner Sarah Storey: “My left hand never affected my decisions as an athlete”
“Ultimately I’m an athlete and I would’ve been an athlete no matter what. Having a partially formed left hand is a circumstance that has never figured in any of my decisions.”
Sarah Storey is a remarkable sportswoman. Starting her career at the tender age of 14, she has won multiple gold, silver and bronze medals for Great Britain and coached younger athletes to achieve their potential.
After 14 years in the pool and on the Paralympic swim team, she crossed over into cycling where she is now reigning world champion in four events.
“It was a massive risk, definitely,” Sarah asserts. “I mean by this time (2005), I was such an established swimmer. I’d got myself in a good position, but I sat down with my coach and we thought – what is there actually left for me to achieve in swimming? We both thought I should try and see if I could have the same success in a new sport.
At school I was a good all-rounder and I wanted to prove that I was a real athlete, and my skills didn’t just begin and end at swimming.
I definitely think the discipline of getting up at five in the morning and getting into the water helped my cycling later on. When you’re swimming you have to work out by yourself and so I’m very good at working on my own. Sometimes I can be out on the bike for hours by myself, but I’ve got a mental strength from doing that already in swimming.
I’m quite new to cycling, but I can see myself doing this for at least another 20 years. There are just so many things that I haven’t done yet! When you compete in the pool, you’re very pigeon-holed according to age and ability, but at cycling events I routinely compete with people who are 80 or 90 years old; it’s a very inclusive sport like that.
We separate Paralympics and Olympics because logistically it’s impossible to do it any other way, but ultimately I’m an athlete and I was going to be an athlete no matter what. Having a partially formed left hand is a circumstance and it hasn’t figured in any of my decisions. I haven’t been more or less determined; it’s just a circumstance in my life. It’s exactly the same as if you were going to be a successful business person – you’re going to be that person regardless of whether there’s something different about you. It’s all down to who you are as a person.
Up until December 2011, I was in the Olympic cycling squad hoping to be picked to actually compete. It was tough because I had to juggle my events for the Paralympics and the Olympics so it was a balancing act. After winning world cups in Manchester and Colombia, plus two national titles, I parted ways with the team, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never have the chance again. When they let me go it was never a cause for argument because the decision was based on what was best for the team; it’s not about an individual who would or would not make history.
My two-decade career has to be largely put down to my support network of family, friends and trainers who have been there throughout. My closest circle, made up of my parents, my husband and my brother and sister, are so important. They’re the people who will let me just be me, not Sarah the athlete or Sarah the public speaker; they keep my feet on the ground so I can work towards my next goal. I think you need that normality around you to function.
Beyond that there are five other groups of people, networks of friends and coaches and those people evolve with you, they don’t always stay constant. Previously I’ve had fantastic support from roommates and trainers, but then you move on and the circles change.
I hope that I am a support to others in the same way they are to me. I was a volunteer with the north west swim club, coaching young swimmers who will now be competing in the games this year, which is exciting! Now I’m part of the road cycling team. I’m around a lot of younger riders, so I hope that through mentoring and us learning together I can help them to become even better athletes than they already are.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Storey
Sarah Storey is supporting Links of London’s Circle of 5 campaign by giving her five key support team a team GB band. To gift your Circle of 5 click here.