Hannah Cockroft, at only 20 years old, is a double world champion wheelchair racer set to compete in the 100m and 200m events in the Paralympics in September. Hannah is an Ambassador and a BT Storyteller for the Olympic and Paralympic Games – more about these schemes at https://www.btlondon2012.co.uk/index-ambassadors.html.
– What does London 2012 mean for you?
London 2012 was never the target for me; I was taken onto the GB Paralympic team as medal potential for Rio in 2016, so this has all happened so quickly. I guess that with it being a home Games – the Paralympics finally coming home – it is a huge opportunity for me, as disability sport has really been thrown into the spotlight. Oscar Pistorius is breaking down the barrier into able-bodied sport, and the whole world has taken an interest.
For me, I’m feeling the pressure a little bit as everyone is expecting a medal from me. Going into it as double world champion maybe wasn’t the best idea! But at the same time, all my family and a good few of my friends are making the journey down south to watch me in the biggest race of my life. Apart from my Mum, Dad and brothers, no one has ever really come to watch me compete, so to have their support means a lot to me, and I know the opportunity means a lot to everyone too. They’ve all supported me so much over the last four years, so I want it to really be a way to say, “Look, this is where you helped me get to and now I want to do you proud”. It’s just a chance to make a name for myself, and to grow from a junior athlete into a successful senior.
It’s the last time the games are ever going to come to London, as we’ve had them three times now, so it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m so excited to be involved.
– Which modern technologies – television, radio, the internet and social media – do you use?
Recently I’ve done a lot of work with Channel 4 with their ‘Superhumans’ campaign and ‘That Paralympic Show’. I’m featured in two of the Paralympic adverts that Channel 4 released, on the Superhuman billboard, and I also have my own advert coming out closer to the Games! I did some mini-documentaries for Channel 4 and Sainsbury’s last year too and they’re all great fun to be involved with.
As for radio work, I’ve done a few interviews with local stations but nothing too major. When I broke the first world record in the Olympic Stadium though, that was broadcast on every station across the country!
I’m a typical teenager, so I do spend my life on social media websites. I have my fan group on Facebook –“Hannah Lucy Cockroft – Double World Champion” – which was set up by Paralympics GB last year, and I use it to keep my fans up-to-date with my progress and adventures. I’m a Twitter nut so I tweet an awful lot at @HCDream2012. I try to keep a blog, but it’s incredibly back-dated at the moment as my time is taken over by training and competitions. But I do video blogs for Channel 4, which they broadcast on their website at https://paralympics.channel4.com/the-athletes/athleteid=422/index.html.
But really, my main work is still with the newspapers, which is cool. I do a monthly diary with the Guardian and various interviews with other papers, so it’s pretty cool how much stuff comes up when you Google me!
– What do you think people will be feeling as they watch or listen to Olympic coverage?
I hope it makes them feel proud. Proud of their country, proud of what their country has produced! All the athletes are doing incredibly well and they’re making me so proud to be a member of team GB. The national anthem brings tears to my eyes every time it is played – maybe because I want to be in that position so bad, but also maybe because I’m unbelievably patriotic.
– What made you decide to get involved in the Ambassador scheme, and why do you think it’s important?
Sport has played a huge part in my life over the last few years, and I’d like to think that by being an Ambassador I can inspire at least a little tiny part of another person with what I do. Sport is all about the power of communication and passing on what you’ve learnt to other generations to keep the competitions going. Inspiring a generation is what the London Games are all about, and being part of that is proving to be something magical.
– What do you think a big social event like the Olympics & Paralympics means for community and for isolated people within a country?
The great thing about the Games is how it has brought everyone together! I was down in Hyde Park this week and normally, I avoid London – I’m a country girl so the big city scares me – but the atmosphere was electric and everyone had a huge smile on their face and was having fun! There wasn’t the usual arrogance that London sometimes boasts, with everyone getting on with their own thing, not caring about the next person. Everyone was together and enjoying what the country had to offer. This summer has offered lots of opportunities in this way, with the Queen’s Jubilee bringing the street parties and now the Olympics bringing worldwide celebration. It’s brilliant to see how empowering sport can be.
– What do you think your story has to say about the achievements of disabled people, and do you think coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics is an important factor in the portrayal of disabled people?
I’m nothing special, I’ve made the most of the life I was given, found something I enjoy and worked hard at it. Right now, it’s all about equality in life. Being disabled is no reason not to do something, you just have to find your own way of doing it!
I think the Paralympics is still slightly in the shadow of the Olympics, but it’s grown a lot since Beijing and people are starting to see now that we are real athletes. We work just as hard, if not harder, than the able-bodied athletes, and we deserve what we get. I’m incredibly proud to call myself a Paralympian because I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to this point!
– What did it feel like when you knew you’d been selected for the team?
I was always pretty confident that I’d make the team, as in my head, if they didn’t take a double world champion, then pretty much no-one on the team deserved to be selected. It sounds pretty big headed but at least I’m honest! But getting the call is the icing on the cake. It’s the final confirmation that settles your mind – you know that the hard work has all been worth it, but the real hard work starts now.
It was a moment of elation and fear for me. I’m so excited about the Paralmypics but at the same time, so scared!
– What’s your favourite story from the Games so far?
It sound bad to put it this way, but when Jess Ennis won her gold, I was with McFly, my all-time favourite band. So the tears were pouring with Jess, as she is such an incredible athlete, but I also got to meet four of the most gorgeous guys in the world, so that moment will stick with me forever, even if it is for other reasons!
– Do you think coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics is an important factor in the portrayal of disabled people?
I think that the increase in coverage for the Paralympics is brilliant as it is giving a more equal opportunity to the athletes, and allowing us to show the world what their Lottery money is going towards and what we can really do. By forcing us into the public eye, people are definitely starting to accept and respect us more.
– What do you think of modern technology – television, radio and the internet –as a way of avoiding isolation among vulnerable people?
I think modern technology is amazing! I have friends all over the world because of the travelling I do, and it is a brilliant way to keep in contact and stay up to date with their lives. But it is really useful for those who feel isolated or lonely, as there are so many ways to meet people and make friends now. Although you do have to be incredibly careful with who you meet on the internet, there is no reason for people to feel alone anymore as there’s always someone out there feeling exactly the same. With all the new technology around, you can always keep in touch with what is happening in the world.
– What should be the 21st century’s key message on disability?
Oscar Pistorius always answers this one pretty well: “You are not disabled by the disabilities you have. You are able by the abilities you have.” Everyone is good at something, you just have to find that thing.