Meet Dame Sarah Storey: GB's Most Decorated Female Paralympian

Life//People

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Dame Sarah Storey is Great Britain's most decorated female Paralympian in history. Winning 11 Gold, 8 Silver and 3 Bronze medals across 6 Paralympic Games and after a career spanning 20 years, Sarah is most definitely one of the most versatile athletes. Taking the time from her busy schedule training and from her most recent stint commentating on the BBC Commonwealth Games coverage, she answers some of our burning questions for The Essential Cyclist.

What is it like racing for Britain, you must get a tremendous amount of support from fans?

Competing for your country is a very proud time. It is a real privilege to be able to own a GB track suit. I think my biggest fans are definitely my family and they travel everywhere with me. Crossing the line and sharing success with them makes the achievement even better!

You were a professional swimmer, for you, what was your first passion? Cycling or swimming?

Swimming until 2005 and now cycling. Swimming selected me for my first Games in 1992 and I competed at 4 Games in the pool before switching. If I make the team for Rio it will be my 3rd Games in Cycling and my 7th overall.

You won an incredible amount of medals in your first Paralympic games when you were just 14, what was that like? Were you very nervous or excited?

I just took it all in my stride, I didn't have a clue about the enormity of what I was doing, which is probably a good thing!! I was advised to treat it like "just another race" which is advice I still follow today. There is no point in blowing an event out of proportion, the physicality of competition is the same regardless of the arena. Psychology plays a huge part in sport and staying calm is at the centre of that.

What made you take the plunge into cycling and leave swimming?

I started cycling as a bit of fun then ended up using it as a cross training tool when I was struggling with ear infections and not allowed to swim. In the end I decided to switch to see if I could do a second sport as well as my first!

Did you love sport in school? Was there anyone in specific who supported you or pushed you to be where you are today?

I have always loved sport and did all sports available while I was at school. Gymnastics, Netball, Cross Country, Table Tennis, Track and Field, Rounders and Cricket, I gave everything a go and competed at county and national level for most things. No one pushed me though I was driven by my own ambitions.

You are a multiple gold medal winner, firstly where do you keep all of your medals? Secondly, how have your friends and family reacted to it? Do they treat you the same?

My parents have got all my medals in a safe and to everyone I am just Sarah there's no reason to treat me differently.

Winning your first gold medal must have been incredible but does the feeling wear off after your eleventh?

Not at all, it's such an honour to be stood on the top of the rostrum singing the national anthem.

What advice would you give to people wanting to get into cycling or swimming?

Visit your local club and use the information available on the sports websites. Above all enjoy your journey.

What sporting advice do you give to children who may have been born with a disability?

The same I would give to any child who loves sport, find the club for your sport and follow your dreams. For para sport the Deloitte Parasport website is a great signposting site for clubs with Parasport expertise.

What was it like being made a Dame?

Very surreal and humbling. I still can't believe I have been honoured in such a way. My husband Barney and my parents came to the ceremony. I was 8 months pregnant at the time too so was trying not to fall over in the heels! It was an amazing day and we had lunch at The Goring hotel with the rest of our family afterwards.

We love to know what people eat and train on, so what is your diet like and what bikes do you ride?

Everything in moderation but lots of fruit and veg, plenty of protein and carbohydrate as well as lots of water. On the bike I use products from CNP professional as well as real food like bananas. At breakfast I have whole grain cereals and porridge with fruit on top and then throughout the day I eat regularly. Lunch is usually a sandwich on brown bread and dinner will be meat and veg with pasta or potatoes. Puddings are usually fruit and yoghurt.

How do you balance your personal life with all of your achievements and training? Or has that taken a back seat?

Sport is my life and that of my family and friends, we all follow it together. I have made all my choices for a reason and because I wanted to, I haven't made any sacrifices. Anyone who sacrifices something they love is at risk of resentment and I certainly don't have any desire to change anything I have done. When I decide I am sacrificing something that will be the time to retire.

How do you balance life with your new baby, Louisa Marie and your husband Barney Storey with your cycling?

We go everywhere together! It's really that simple, sport is our life and so far Louisa has been having a great time too! Barney is the manager of the team I ride for Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International so he is always at the races too. We are very lucky our jobs allow us to always be together.

You competed for one of the three places in the GB squad for the women's team pursuit at the 2012 Olympic Games but you were dropped from the team, this must have been very difficult especially after you were in the winning team for the World Cup Event. How do you deal with sporting disappointments?

I was expecting not to be part of the team in London so it wasn't a huge surprise. I always look for the positives in situations where I am disappointed.

On a more positive note you won Britain's first gold medal in the women's individual C5 pursuit in London's 2012 Paralympic Games, as well as three more gold throughout the games, was this your best moment of your career?

It is certainly up there as one of the best moments and I will always be very proud to have won the first medal as well as in front of a home crowd.

How hard did you push yourself with your training before the Paralympics?

As hard as I could, you can't do things by halves at this level.

Who is the most competitive person you know?

I know too many to separate them!

You have signed a contract to ride for the Madison Boot Out Breast Cancer cycling team, is this a charity that is close to your heart?

Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International is the team name and we ride to promote the work of Boot Out Breast Cancer. I am a patron of the charity and own the cycling team along with my husband Barney, hence the association.

What have been the best and worst moments of your sporting career?

Best would be getting 11gold in Paralympics. Worst probably would be swimming the Worlds in 1998 with chronic fatigue and missing gold. I won 2 silver and 4 bronze.

After sport, have you considered what you want to do after you retire?

Continue to remain in involved with sport. Whether that be in the media or the back room support staff.

You were in the studio for the track events at the Commonwealth Games. How does it compare to being on the track?

It was great to see all the racing, as an athlete you don't see many other events.

Road or track – which do your prefer?

Road! But I like the track on race day!

You are an ambassador for Club La Santa, how did you get involved?

I was taken to club la Santa as a swimmer before Barcelona in 1992 and loved the resort. Everything is on one site making it the perfect training venue, the roads on the island are also really good and there is a mix of terrain which is perfect for a cyclist. Back at the resort the food is excellent and there is a good sports massage centre in the Wellness Centre. I can also get my bike serviced and the Bike Centre which is very well appointed. There is also plenty for the whole family to do there and we can swim everyday with Louisa who loves the water. I am proud to be an ambassador and share one of the secrets of my success!

Many thanks to Dame Sarah Storey for some great answers! It has been great getting an insight into her fantastic sporting career.

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