My Journey into Paratriathlon
I suppose my journey into paratriathlon started in 2012 when I had a minor operation to remove an ingrown toenail. Unfortunately, this never went to plan because in my right foot it triggered a condition called CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). For me, CRPS caused immense pain, hypersensitivity; changes in temperature of my foot, swelling and it meant that I was unable to move my foot properly.
Several months after the initial injury, I had lots of physiotherapy, which helped me regain some normality. I went to college where I had a scholarship to train to be a chef and moved to London to do this. After about two years of struggling with the immense pain that CRPS caused me, I started to get severe ulcers on my foot which meant I was unable to continue to train to be a chef. This caused a lot more problems and meant that I was having to have a lot of operations to try and fix the ulcers. However, after nearly 50 operations, it was clear to me that this was not really working, and we were not making any progress. This is when I started to look into the option of amputation.
After months of speaking to different surgeons and going through the processes required, I found a surgeon who agreed that this was my best option. As a child, I’d always been interested in karate and had gained my black belt before I developed CRPS. Before my amputation I had started to do some wheelchair racing because I was looking for some sport that I could get involved in. Through this, I met people who had done paratriathlon before and it really sparked my interest. However, at the time I was unable to do so due to the CRPS and the ulcers in my foot.
I had my leg amputated on the 18th July 2016 and before my amputation, I made a list of things that I wanted to do or achieve, just small goals that would keep me motivated to make the most out of this situation. The goals started with things like learning how to walk again, because I’d been unable to walk for the two years before my amputation. But after this, one of my goals was to complete a triathlon. I started by going swimming. Then gradually plucked up the courage to get back on my bike which I hadn’t done for six years. Then running was the last thing I started to do. I went along to the talent ID day run by British Triathlon in February 2017 (7 months after my amputation), I hadn’t really done a lot of training and I could barely run at all but it really sparked my interest even more and made me realise that this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t really get any further with that at the time because I really needed to go away, recover and train more. It was after this talent ID day that I entered my first ever triathlon, which was at the Arctic ONE tri and paratri festival in May 2017. I had entered to do the super sprint triathlon (which is half the distance I do now) and with it only being 10 months after my amputation, I was doing everything on my standard NHS prosthesis (which was pretty painful). I was so nervous because I’d never done anything like this in my life before. The whole experience was amazing, despite the fact that I was very slow, I just loved every second of it and when I crossed the finish line, I’d already decided that I wanted to do more. I did a couple of other races in 2017 and also did my first sprint triathlon, which was at the British Championships that year. Throughout this year I really just took myself away and with the help of my coach at the time, started training some more to try and start to make the improvements I needed to, to become part of the British Paratriathlon team.
It wasn’t until May 2018 that I did my first international race, the World Cup at Eton Dorney, which was part of the Arctic ONE tri and paratri festival just one year after my first ever race. My goals for 2018, were really only to race again at the British Championships. So, what happened after the World Cup at Eton Dorney was completely beyond what I had expected. I got selected to go to my first World Series race, which was in Iseo, Italy. After that I got selected to go and race at the European Championships which I won and also got selected to go to race in Australia at the World Championships. It was amazing to be able to go there and to be honest I wasn’t really expecting to podium, I was very much the newcomer. But, I won and surprised everybody including myself.
After this I moved to Loughborough for university, which was also were my current coach is based and meant that I get to train with paratriathlon team based here as well as having access to the amazing facilities. Before the World Championships last year, I found out that my category in paratriathlon (PTS4) would not be racing at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. In the winter, the rules were changed to mean that athletes were allowed to ‘race up’ if their category was not in the Paralympics. This means racing against ‘less impaired’ athletes but it gave me huge motivation for the season ahead and meant that for the women, the PTS 3,4 & 5 categories would all start together at races this year rather than being staggered in different starts as they were previously. I started training in Loughborough throughout the winter, which went fairly well and went to my first race of 2019 in April which was the World Series in Milan. I found it really exciting to have different categories all starting together and having more people in the race. I won this race within my category which I was delighted with and really set me up well for the year to come. I also won again when I raced at the World Series in Montreal. We then went to race at the Paralympic Test Event in Tokyo, which was an incredible experience and brought its own challenges, but I learnt so much from this trip & race that will definitely help in the future. Two weeks after this, it was time for the World Championships again, this time in Lausanne, Switzerland. I was very excited, after a bit of disappointment in Tokyo, to have the opportunity to go and try to defend my world title. It didn’t all go exactly to plan, as I was ill just 36 hours before the race and at that point wasn’t even sure if I would be able to make it to the start line. But thanks to the amazing support team around me, we did all we could to give myself the best chance. I was feeling a little better on race day, but still not great. As I stood on the start line, I felt excited and tried to forget about everything that had happened in the build-up to the race. Although by far not my best race, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been so emotional crossing the finish line because I really wasn’t sure if I would be able to. To cross the finish line after seeing my family, my coach and some of the other people who have helped me get here, knowing that I had successfully defended my World Championship title was the best feeling ever and something I can’t really describe.
I had a break after the World Championships, but now it’s back to the hard work (both at Uni and training) and the winter training that lies ahead. I have a lot of things to work upon over the winter, which I am committed to and I hope will help me get to a good place and where I want to be for next year. Although there are a lot of specific goals I want to achieve in 2020, the main goal is to enjoy the process, have fun and to be the best I can be both in training and on race day.