Five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft continues to be driven by her love of competing and says she is constantly making up for lost time.
Cockroft has arrived in Tokyo with just one aim and that’s to add two further medals to her collection.
“I’m not going to lie, two gold medals is what I’ll be happy with,” she told Sky Sports News’ Emma Paton prior to flying out to Tokyo.
“Those two gold medals are what I’ve been thinking about since I crossed the line in Rio. You’re always thinking ahead to the next Paralympic Games, and over lockdown it was what kept me going.
“The days when I got up and thought that I didn’t want to train, my boyfriend [fellow Paralympian Nathan Maguire] would remind me that I knew exactly what I was doing and what it takes to win gold medals.
“It’s been a long year, but we got through it and it’s going quite well now.”
Like all athletes, Cockroft and Maguire had to show their adaptability when the pandemic struck in England and the lockdowns arrived.
“Last year, athletes made one of two decisions,” Cockroft said. “They either thought that they were going to use the time to rest and recover, or they did what I did, which was train all the time! Thankfully, that’s paying off.
Most of lockdown, my training was split between the gym in my garage and training on the rollers in my spare bedroom. That’s not normally where gold medals are made, but we didn’t have access to anything else, so we were just creative with what we did have access to.
“Throughout lockdown, Nathan and I trained together and that helped my motivation because if he did a session and I didn’t, it was a massive guilt trip and I had to keep up with him!”
Of course, there were hard mornings and difficult days, but the time that Cockroft and Maguire spent training together also allowed her to “fall back in love” with what she does.
“I missed all of the competitive elements of being an athlete [during lockdown], so as soon as we were allowed back out onto a racetrack, I just wanted to go. I’ve just been enjoying myself.”
Cockroft’s love of being a professional athlete is a deep-rooted one and stems from a great desire to make up for lost time, as she explained.
“Growing up, PE for me at school was sitting and watching. It was reading a book or doing homework, it was never about getting involved. So when I was younger, I just assumed that disabled people didn’t do sport.
“I only started playing sport when I was 12 years old – my first sport was wheelchair basketball and the minute I saw it, my life completely changed.
“My younger brother is quite sporty so I always used to watch him play rugby or football and thought that I wished I could do it… and I could, but I just never knew it.
I feel like I’m playing catch up on all of those years when I just wished that it was what I could do. Now, I can and I’m out there and I can prove all of these people wrong who said that I could never do it.
Cockroft’s route into sport came via the Cardinals wheelchair basketball team, who were doing demonstrations at all of the local secondary schools in her area.
“When it was my school’s turn, I don’t think that they realised how big an influence they would have that day. I jumped in a basketball chair and loved it.
“I played for my team for six years, I was always the only girl and the team were amazing with me. They put me forward for different sports, I tried wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby, seated discus and at an athletics competition, I saw wheelchair racing. I thought why not, let’s give it a go – and here we are.”
Cockroft and Davies voted as Para Athletics co-captains for Tokyo
Hannah Cockroft and Aled Davies have been voted as co-captains for the ParalympicsGB athletics team for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Since her first introduction to wheelchair racing, Cockroft has won five Paralympic gold medals. She is the most decorated British athlete in World Championship history with 12 titles, and has won three European Championships.
“Training is going really well,” she said. “I went to Switzerland [in May] and broke seven world records in nine races. To be honest, the times that I was putting down I couldn’t believe myself.
“I just became British champion as well, so if I can keep this up, that would be great!!”
Despite holding the world records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m events, Cockroft will only compete in the 100m and 800m in Tokyo.
“Every Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee decides what classifications will have what events. In London, I had the 100m and 200m; in Rio, they decided that I’d have the 100m, 400m, and 800m; and now they’ve decided the 100m and 800m.
“I don’t get to make the decision. It generally depends on the number of competitors in each event.
“I think that they’re aiming at trying to have two separate gold medallists [in the events]. I’m obviously not going to go with that and give them that too easily!
“So they keep on changing, but however many times they change, I’ll change with them.
“The competition is getting harder and harder every single year. So every time I can go out and win the race, it shows that I’m moving with the sport and that I’m not getting left behind.
“I’m 28 years old now and I’m competing against 21-year-old girls and even younger ones, and they’re looking at me as a ‘senior’ athlete.
“I’m not going to get left behind, I believe that I’ve got so much more to give and I can go so much faster. I don’t want to give up until I’m happy with what I’ve managed to achieve.
“There is a massive pressure to keep winning and achieving,” she added. “I just try and spin it in my head, and think that all the pressure and the expectation is people’s belief in me. You have to see that as a privilege really.
“People want me to win and they believe that I have it within me to do that. Sometimes it is scary, because you don’t want to let people down, but I think over lockdown, I found out that ultimately I do this because I enjoy it.”