Hannah Cockroft – Wheelchair racing athlete, 7x Paralympic Gold Medallist and World Record Holder

Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with wheelchair racing athlete, 7x paralympic gold medallist and world record holder Hannah Cockroft. We discuss the stand-out moments from Hannah’s career so far, her approach to training, the goals and plans she has for the future, plus much more…

How did your passion for sport begin and develop?

I was always active as a child but could never find a sport where I could keep up with everyone else. When I was 12, I was introduced to my first para sport- wheelchair basketball and from there, my passion for sport really took off! Through the club I had the opportunity to try so many different sports: wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis and really, I just wanted to try them all just to make a point and show that I could do it when in the right environment! I think when you’re a child with a disability, you are told a lot of what you can’t do, instead of what you can, and I just loved being in an environment where I was being told that I could do anything. The passion developed from that opportunity really, but it was never the plan for it to lead as far as it has!

What are your personal stand-out moments from your career so far?

That’s a tough one, there has been quite a few! London 2012 is an obvious highlight- winning 2 gold medals in front of a home crowd of 80,000 people at 20 years old is just what dreams are made of, and I think being there will forever be a moment that I wish I could return to. It was breath-taking and life changing and absolutely the time of my life. I think other than that, my most recent race meet is one of my proudest moments. I raced out in Dubai in February and I recorded the fastest 800m ever by a British female: 1.44.43. I always dreamed that I could be the fastest at something and it finally happened. I know people will think ‘that’s strange, I thought she holds World Records’? But World Records in Para Sport are split by classification, so split by disability, this time was the fastest by anyone, regardless of disability or not, any class, and I worked so so hard to get it, so it really stands out for me, even though most people don’t know about it! 

What does a typical week of training consist of?

Training for me consists of 6 sessions a week in the race chair and 2 sessions a week in the gym, so everyday in the chair and then 2 double days and Sunday is always a rest day unless we’re competing. When I’m in winter training, it’s a lot more miles to push, the sessions are longer reps and longer sets, the closer we get to the season starting, the shorter the reps and sets get so that I’m fresher when I get on the start line. Other than that pattern, the only thing that’s the same every week is where I train- my training venues are quite spread apart! On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays I train in Liverpool, on Tuesdays and Fridays I’m in Northwich, on Thursdays I’m in Leeds and every other Wednesday I’m in Loughborough, so I spend a lot of time in the car!

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice as a teenager/young adult, what would it be?

You can do anything, but not everything.

I was always that athlete who did everything. After London 2012, I went to University and I was balancing living on my own for the first time, with a full-time course, full time training and a different appearance everyday. It was just crazy! So, I think my advice to myself would be to just choose the thing I really want to do right now and give it your all, because nothing is going to be a success if you just give it 25%. I ended up dropping out of uni, moving home and cutting down on the amount of appearances I did because my performances on the track were really starting to suffer. 

What is your approach to resting and trying to achieve good work/life balance?

My work/ life balance has taken a lot to find any kind of balance. For me, a massive part of it is remembering that my work is on the track, not behind a computer screen! People never really see the insane amounts of admin that para athletes have to do- we book all our own races, training camps and travel, we travel a long way to get to our sessions, and on top of that often have to do a lot of appearance work to make ends meet. There’s not that much resting to be done! So, I just try to plan my jobs either out of season, when training is hard, but recovery isn’t as important, or just when the season has ended, so I have some time out of the chair. Other things like time with friends and family just have to fit in when they can, and luckily, I have incredible friends and family who just understand how busy (and tired!) I am. But I made it a new year’s resolution this year to have at least one day out a month with friends and so far, I’m just about sticking to it. But as I train on a Saturday, I only really have a one-day weekend, so it’s not that much time to fit it in when I want to sleep!  Really, it’s just about doing what I enjoy, so I’ve had to get used to using the word ‘no’ a lot more to find that balance and finding the joy in the things I get to do, rather than what I ‘have’ to do, and suddenly it doesn’t seem to be as much work!

What are your goals and plans for the future?

To enjoy where I’m at, to have fun. That’s it really! I’d love to get to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, and maybe LA in 2028, but there’s no pressure. If something else comes along and I want to give it a go, then I’ll go for it, but I’ve no idea what that something would be at the moment. I just want to remain on top of my sport for as long as I’m enjoying it, and right now, I still love it, so I want to be on track for as long as I can. Then we’ll see what comes next.

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