HERE I am squeezing a tube of protein on to my tongue, smiling giddily, legs elevated on a plastic chair, prickly hotel carpet grazing the back of the cycling team logo which is shaved into my hair.
“This is it,” I said to Karen, my cycling team-mate, room-mate, soul mate and professional adventurer.
Her frown looks like a smile from this position.
“There’s more to life, Hannah,” she warns me.
She knows I am too far gone, high on pain-relieving sports massages and not having to live on baked beans. I kid you not British Cycling had brought Michelin star chefs with them.
The best bit for me of being selected for the Paracycling Road World Championships wasn’t the huge, beautiful Italian Dolomites out of our hotel window, not even the extravagance of being back with the British team. It is always the basics: being accepted for who I am, completely and unapologetically. I came out as an athlete, to the shock of my family, when I was 19.
It had been my sister who was hooked on disability documentaries and Paralympic stuff in 2012, so she should be the Paralympian in the family except she’s not disabled in any way. Meanwhile, I ignored all of it.
If you are a fan of the cult-comedy-horror film Shaun of the Dead, I was Mark Donovan and Simon Pegg, who are too bored with life to notice the zombie apocalypse occurring all around them and who go along to the shop, as normal, to buy Cornettos.
What I’m saying is, the apocalypse I ate Cornettos through was the “2012 boom”, the phenomenon where Channel 4 helped British Paralympians reach celebrity status like never before. Everyone became aware of the Paralympics. Except me. A non-Paralympic discipline came to me in an old dusty magazine: RaceRunning at Red Star Athletics Club in Glasgow.
Gavin Drysdale and Kayleigh Haggo were my first examples of how fast a person with significant quadriplegic cerebral palsy could be, if they had the right equipment. I didn’t need to be shown twice.
You know that picture of Clark Kent with his superman suit poking out from beneath his work shirt? That was me. Except however many times I tore open my shirt, it was just a flabby couch potato existence that stared back. It started a lot longer than I let on to anyone. Beneath the disabled
exterior I was strong, fast and quite muscley, if I did say so myself. What if Clark Kent needed adaptive equipment to become his true self? In that respect I’m more of a transformer.
RaceRunners use a three-wheeled “anti-faceplant device” which removes the nastier effects of gravity. We became the three fastest people on RaceRunners in the world. Lack of competition would have Kayleigh seek it out in swimming and cycling. Gavin held fast.
The first “Superheroes” advert included three amputees and no one like me or Gavin or Kayleigh. Had I not had them and Red Star I may not have made it into the Rio Paralympics. Trike racing, which took me there, and other road paracycling disciplines are still not shown on mainstream British telly.
Since I got dropped from the Para-cycling programme in 2017, saying it has been increasingly hard for me to get on a start line this year would have been true had it not been for my crowdfunding community.
Then a spark of genius within British cycling increased opportunity for off-programme riders to get selected for the World Championships this year, as long as they paid a contribution. I’m nominating British Cycling’s Performance director Stephen Park, with an apt, self-chosen nickname, Sparky: thank you for connecting the power. Sarah Storey’s crowdfunding paid the electricity bill and now things are looking bright.
After coming closest to the podium than I’ve ever come in Italy, it gets even better because British Athletics offered me the opportunity to defend my 100m world record. The number of crowdfunders, British Cycling and now Para Athletics getting me back racing means the whole world. Really it is the best of two worlds and maybe one day I will be best in both worlds.
The mega boom, I have decided, came when World Para Athletics included RaceRunning in the European Championships this year as part of their commitment to increase the participation of athletes with more severe co-ordination impairments.
This girl with a severe co-ordination impairment and those who know her are staking their claim. I’m not just going to participate. I’m going to race as a representative of British Paralympians and of cerebral palsy. Get me on a start line now and I feel like Billy Elliot saying “electricity” and then I explode into motion, except there’s less tap-dancing and more flailing. Really, it’s like Frankenstein’s monster being electrocuted to life (including the moaning and grunting).
Last week’s 27km road race had me 22 seconds off bronze despite a bridge of death left-hand corner and 39 degree heat that made others in the team pull out or sustain gaps of eight to 13 minutes. I was the closest I have been to the first step. As I told a friend, I’m less fourth than before and more bronze. I’ve got a slight shine to me. Nearly, nearly?
In RaceRunning the field is potentially double that of trike racing and my world record now only stands by half a second. All my competitors have cerebral palsy (disabilities of a feather finish together…or a little bit behind me).
The irony is, a girl may watch me on TV in a few days from now, one who uses a walker, leg splints or an electric wheelchair to get around and be completely unaffected by the most historical race of my life. She might turn it off halfway through and just sit there, eating a Cornetto. Or maybe, me being on the telly, is what I would have needed to find myself sooner.
Source : HeraldScotland