Sarah Storey: 'competing is in my DNA'

Britain's most decorated female Paralympian Sarah Storey talks about sport, disability and winning gold medals in two different sports.

What sports did you do as a child?
At school I did every sport going. Gymnastics, track and field, table tennis, cross country, netball and swimming. I just loved to compete. It didn’t matter what sport I was doing.

But you eventually chose swimming?
Swimming chose me. All I wanted to do was to win gold medals. When I was 14, I was fast-tracked into Britain's swimming team for the 1992 Paralympics, where I won two golds, three silvers and a bronze.

Sounds like you’re a born competitor
I love to compete. It’s in my DNA. It doesn’t matter what sport. I was brought up to always try my best. This healthy sense of competition made sport fun and I enjoyed it.

What inspired you to want to be an Olympian?
I remember watching the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and seeing British athletes like Tessa Sanderson and Daley Thompson winning gold. I knew then I wanted to be like them.

You were born with a partly formed left hand?
In the womb my arm was caught in the umbilical cord and didn’t develop as it should have. My left arm ends at the heel of my palm. But it did not stop me playing sport as a child. I just carried on as normal.

How does your disability influence you?
I’ve never been treated differently and that’s played a major part in my life. I’ve just got on with it. I always took part in able-bodied sport at school and I learned to throw and catch a ball like any other child did.

Until your London 2012 success, you were best known as a Paralympic swimmer
Yes, I was a Paralympic swimmer for 13 years. I was 14 years old when I competed in my first Paralympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. I’ve won 16 medals in the pool, including five golds.

Why did you switch to cycling?
In 2005, I started suffering severe ear infections from swimming. It meant I had long periods of time out of the water. To stay fit, I started cycling at the velodrome in Manchester. I got noticed by British Cycling. They told me I had great potential.

Was it an easy decision?
Both Paralympic swimming and cycling wanted me on their team. I was 27 years old. I felt I’d gone as far as I could in swimming. I had gold medals, I’d broken 60 world records. I needed a new challenge. It came down to attempting to achieve something no Briton had done before.

Was the switch hard work?
Success happened much more quickly than I had thought possible. Three weeks after starting training in cycling, I won five gold medals and broke one world record at the European Paralympic Championships in 2005. By 2007, I was competing in able-bodied cycling track and road events.

Were you surprised by your results?
It’s not uncommon for athletes with a multi-sport background to switch sports and still compete at the highest level. You’re at the peak of your physical fitness. The only issue is whether you can get to grips with the technical aspect of the sport.

Does your bike have any special features?
My bike has a few adaptations to keep me safe. On my track bike, I place my left hand into a specially designed aluminium hook that is bonded onto the handlebars. On my road bike, I have to control both brakes with my right hand.

How do you stay motivated?
It's such an honour and a privilege to be an athlete. A lot of people love sport and competing. This is my full-time job. There's nothing more motivating than having such an amazing opportunity in a job that you love.

What are your tips for getting started in disability sports?
If you love sport and want to get involved, visit the Parasport website. It aims to make it easier for people to take up disability sport by providing information about sports in their area.

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