Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Top speed in my race boat was about 17 km /hour but today I'm aiming to go much, much faster ... Sprint kayaking wasn't scary or dangerous but my heart would beat really fast on the start line anyway.  Bizarrely this thought crosses my mind as I sit precariously on the top of a cinder cone volcano in Nicaragua, astride a wooden plank, staring down the 40 degree slope to the tiny backpacker bus far, far below...
Cerro Negro Nicaragua

Two weeks ago I announced my retirement from the GB Paracanoe team and immediately accepted an invitation from Simon, my husband, to join him on a work trip to Nicaragua. Simon travels a lot and for the last four years I have been so focused on that one single goal - getting to Rio - that spontaneous trips like this were unthinkable. So here I am, "boarding" on a live volcano?!    Am I nuts?! 
Staring down the 40 degree slope
My heart is beating just as fast as at the start of a race, but this time it's with pure fear as I prepare for my turn. Our safety briefing was minimal, "Is anyone allergic to bees? No? Good (!?) Speeds can reach over 90km/hour so you need to keep the board balanced otherwise you will topple over and it will hurt.... Don't EVER put your hands down and if you fall off, just roll...." The only items to protect me from the sharp volcano gravel and rock are a pair of poorly fitting safety goggles, a thin orange boiler suit, and a bandana over my mouth. 

Protective clothing!!

As I sit on my board waiting for my turn, I think back to the team up in Nottingham starting the Tokyo cycle. I know what they're going through and the sacrifices they have chosen to make in order to 'go' for another four years. Having reached as far as I could by winning gold in Rio, I have chosen to step away from elite sport and find new adventures. Knowing what it takes, I have absolute respect and admiration for those who have decided to carry on with an elite program. 
The Incredible GB Paracanoe Team In Brazil

Everything, and I mean everything I did in the last 4 years was a conscious decision based on a single quest, "Will this make my boat go faster". If it didn't fit this criteria then I simply didn't do it.

While I'm waiting, I start to think about the elite athlete 'rules' I'm 'breaking' by being here. Pretty much all of them! Holidays were called regeneration periods and had to be booked in the off-season. Regeneration preferably needed places which had a gym, proper nutrition, no diseases, no unsafe activities, no alcohol, etc. I start to chuckle as I make a mental list of all my transgressions. I'm sitting on top of a live volcano (I bounced here on the back of a dodgy open top truck) in the second poorest country in Central America. I had only a Coca Cola for 'breakfast' and I'm dehydrating rapidly in the heat. The  volcano boarding trip has a shot challenge prize and a beer and mojito reward (lunch?!?) on completion...

But it's not just holidays which were limited and I begin to wonder if people realise the huge amount of personal sacrifices elite athletes make every day in order to reach the top of their game. Once at the top it's even more ruthless as the expectation piles on more pressure and you know that the journey can end at any time, through being beaten or through injury. The risk is so high that you daren't do anything which might jeopardise achieving that one goal. I was fortunate to have had amazing support around me to get me to the top, and such luck that things fell into place at the right time .... the choices I felt I had to make to give me the best chance to succeed were really tough but these choices (along with my training) clearly worked! Although for me, the training was actually easier to deal with than the sacrifices I had to make! 

My Family.

I missed family holidays as regeneration periods don't usually coincide with school holidays. At home I would think about where I went or how I travelled to avoid people who might be infectious. I wouldn't go near anyone who sniffed or sneezed. This included distancing myself from my family if they turned up with a cold. I would often go to bed before my children in order to get enough sleep, I said no to my friend's invitations to parties and evening social events in order to optimise my recovery. I changed my diet and didn't eat or drink anything which didn't promote recovery or wasn't good for me. My take was that empty calories would only make me heavier not faster. I had to be wary about everything I put in or on my body, meticulously checking labels to make sure it wasn't contaminated with a banned substance.  And that's not to mention the loss of privacy, with every detail about me being recorded by the program on a daily basis, so the team around me could learn and adapt.  Nothing was spared and the team knew everything about me from the colour of my urine to the percentage of my fat.  Clearly it worked out for me - but looking back, it was incredibly tough. 

"Are you ready??" Oh no, It's my turn ... Help! I start off trying to go slowly but I rapidly gain speed and I soon realise I'm out of control. Keeping the board balanced when you have a wonky leg and asymmetrical butt cheeks is near enough impossible!!! Then, in a cloud of dust and debris, I start to slide sideways down the slope. Unable to stay straight, I fall and roll my way down the last section of the volcano. 

Just before I fell off......

Ouch!! this is going to hurt a lot tomorrow ... but I don't really mind - this is being alive!!!  As much as I loved being an elite athlete, I love being free even more. Free to do what ever I want, when I want, without worrying that I'm doing the wrong thing, letting someone down, wasting the Programme's efforts, or the public and sponsors' money. 

The 'After " shot

Having said all that, I am in total awe of all of our elite athletes, who sacrifice so much and live each day by strict rules so that they can train properly to be the very best that they can be. The reality is that being an elite athlete is incredibly hard and only the most dedicated and mentally strong, with the best support, make it to the top. 

Talent Pride and Determination.
So having reached the bottom of the volcano (ignoring my bumps and bruises), picking grit out of my ears and hair whilst drinking a cool beer and accepting a strange looking cookie without asking what's in it, I feel happy that I can now live 'normally' again and have new adventures.I want to wish all our athletes aiming for Tokyo the very best luck for your futures. You and your support teams are all - each and every one of you - AMAZING.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


I don't  know about you but I absolutely loved watching the Rio Olympics. The Olympics just exploded 'feel good factor' everywhere!  I found myself watching  sports that wouldn't  normally catch my eye and inexplicably shouting excited encouragement at the telly. Without thinking I used  1st names as if I really knew the athletes  (and as if they could really hear). I'm sure I wasn't the only one doing this and it must have made a difference right because we just kept on winning medals!  Bravo team GB 
GB Paracanoe Team

Now it's our turn - Yay!

I'm beyond excited that the Paralympics will begin on the 7th of September when more sports and more incredible athletes will showcase their talent! For me this is the dream that started four years ago at London 2012 - when I was inspired to try out for para sport and had that mad dream that I could compete in Rio.

My Supporters - credit Moya Slade Photography

I'm ridiculously excited that I'm taking part in this inspirational and perception shifting games. my next dream is to share and give back. If just one person watching us is inspired to "yes I can" my job will be done.  But I'm just as excited to think that the Great British public has another opportunity to get behind the  nation's athletes and support team Paralympics GB as they did four years ago in London.
Cheer at the Telly
You can definitely support us by cheering at the telly because that is just great and I for one will love feeling that we have an army of supporters back home. If you get a chance you could also support us and the next set of athletes through campaigns like "supercharge your shop". I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the funding we get from our sponsors and the campaigns they run for us.

I was lucky enough to be asked to help with the supercharge your shop campaign and it was so much fun. Who wouldn't want to do a photo shoot in Sainsburys at 7.30 on a Sunday morning? Especially when we were instructed to do all the things I've always wanted to do in a supermarket but never been allowed. Trolley races, sitting on the conveyor belt, pretend fighting a visually impaired judo player with my paddle... Well the last one wasn't on my wish list but it was fun for all none the less. 

please don't try this at home....

Trolley racing down the veg Isle

So look out for me in the press over the next few days but more importantly go shopping and then get  cheering knowing that you really have made a supercharge difference. 

As I board my flight to Brazil my dream is complete - I made it to Rio. Whatever the result, I did what I set out to do. Thank you all for supporting me to get here.

Monday, 13 June 2016

I'm going to Rio!!!!!

It's official - Ive been selected and I'm going to Rio!
I recently received an email asking what being selected for Rio means to me.
I sat there numbly staring at that email as the words slowly began to sink in - "selected for Rio"...
It's the first time I've stopped and realised what a massive deal this actually is. It sounds odd but I've been so focused on taking each step at a time, on learning how to paddle while trying to compensate for my limitations. I've been so busy learning to be the best paddler that I can possibly be, that I haven't really had the chance to think what going to Rio would actually mean to me. 
Being the best that I can be - world champion!

In practical terms it means that I’m the fastest KL3 200m paracanoeist in Great Britain, and that come September I'm going to be representing my Country at the Rio Paralympics. This makes me incredibly proud and also hugely nervous –Yikes! I’m going to be performing on a global stage!

But reflecting further I realised that "being selected for Rio" means much, much more to me than that.

Four years ago I was prompted to aim for a bold, impossible, crazy and, let’s be realistic, unlikely dream. But knowing all that didn't put me off wanting to go for it. I had been in a bad place after my injury and wanted to pull myself out of that.  Volunteering at London 2012 had been a step in the right direction, but in going for that new dream of aiming for Rio I was looking to prove to myself that optimism wins; that a door forced closed didn't mean that all my doors were closed.

I chose to walk through a different door and aim for something completely new. Working at London 2012 and seeing incredible examples of human resilience had inspired me. So I decided, following a suggestion from a fellow Gamesmaker that I was going to learn how to paddle a boat and aim for Rio.
Working at london 2012 

I have gained so much more than Rio selection from this journey, (one that could have ended at any time because that is the fickle nature of elite sport), that even not making it or not being selected would have definitely made it worth going for. 

 What being selected means is that even the most unlikely dreams can happen if you can find and open the right door and have the right team around you.   

Being selected for Rio motivates me to work even harder. Come September I want to know that I've done everything possible to put me on the start line saying, "Yay, I'm here. I’ve done the work. Bring it on, I'm ready to race!!!" 

And whatever the outcome I hope that my selection – a 49 year-old working Mum competing on the biggest stage in the world – confirms to others watching that optimism and bold dreams will always power through the barriers we put up ourselves.

Race lake in Rio

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

I can now pronounce Quinoa!!!!

People might think that training within the GB paracanoe team produces nothing but the obvious performance gains… getting faster in a boat. And yes, I guess this is the main focus of all our training, but there have been other  surprising but none the less 'important' added benefits to my life since I starting kayaking .... 

Here’s my top 10:  

Friday, 22 April 2016

Curve balls and Tandems

3 - 2 - 1 GO!!.... No this wasn't the start of a race. It was Simon - the pilot - tying to coordinate with me - the stoker - as we pedalled off on our debut ride on a tandem bicycle.   This may seem like an odd thing to do in the middle of a training block in the run up to Rio, but I'll get onto that later... The bottom line was that I was in a forced break from training, and I had also been missing riding my bike -a lot.
A forced break from training-My coach and an empty boat...
We had headed up north to the Yorkshire Dales for a mini break, to visit a tandem shop that had been recommended to us.  In my mind we were just going to look, and maybe take a spin around the block, but before I knew what was happening a trial off-road tandem had been picked out for us and we found ourselves in the car park, wearing bike helmets, and receiving instructions on how change gear, how to dismount without Simon tipping me onto the floor, and (most importantly) how to get to a good café a couple of valleys over.  I was really curious to see how the two of us would get on. 
learning how to brake safely 

It's worth mentioning here that both of us have the ability to be quite headstrong and we have very, very different approaches to bike riding. Simon likes taking short cuts at speed, seemingly without caution (in a "who cares about broken ribs and a punctured lung" kind of way- see my Mongolia post.  I on the other hand am much more deliberate and I like to be in control, so this experiment where I couldn't even see where I was going was going to be 'interesting'. Potential arguments and accidents aside, I was really excited to think that we were going to be out cycling together on a crisp, sunny, spring morning through amazing scenery in the Yorkshire Dales, to a café for tea and cake!! It had been soooo long...

cycling and cake...
I won't say we were slick through all the gear changes, and some of the dismounts were simply hilarious, but amazingly we had no arguments and had an absolute blast. Admittedly there were some moments when I wished I had control of either the brakes or the steering, but these were fairly minor negatives compared to the absolute exhilaration I felt in being able to ride a bike at speed again without the worry of my weak leg letting me down. The very best bit was that anytime I needed a rest I just stopped putting in any effort and Simon (who is much stronger than me) just put down a bit more grunt.  The added bonus for him was that he had a great workout without having to wait for me to catch up. (couples who ride bikes will understand this). There were many other added bonuses besides, including the benefit for me of being able to take in all the views rather than just focusing on the trail and for him being 'entertained' by my constant chatter. Most importantly we made it to the cafe without getting lost because (according to Simon) I wasn't in charge of steering or navigation. So all in all a huge success and we can't wait to order our first tandem.
We made it to the cafe!!
But back to paddling and the road to Rio... As I mentioned earlier, this may seem a slightly odd thing to be doing in the final season before the Rio Paralympics, but things don't always go to plan.  One of the lessons I have learnt in life is that it's the curve balls which, although really tough to deal with at the time, can often give unexpectedly positive twists and turns to your journey. I'm not sure I ever feel as if I have genuinely achieved something or had  that massive adventure if everything has always followed the plan!!

I had picked up a virus, which hadn't seemed so bad, but it left me completely exhausted. Having seemingly shifted the virus the exhaustion remained and I wondered if I had turned into a hibernating bear.  I found myself falling asleep in the gaps between daytime training sessions, and yet I still needed 12 hours sleep every night. I slept so much that I thought the pillow creases in my face were going to become permanent! Initially I thought the exhaustion was a normal part of training so hard, and even getting in from training and  not making it past the first step in the hall didn't seem that odd to me. I would just sit down and fall asleep -right there - until my son would come home from school waking me up with the offer of a cup of tea.  
Bullishly carrying on...
My coaching team was getting worried.  My heart rate wasn't slowing down properly and my resting heart rate was up- a sign that my body wasn't recovering properly.  I couldn't even go through a gentle warm up without my heart rate shooting through the roof. Any normal person might have had a week in bed, but I didn't want that. Training makes you faster, right? So I bullishly carried on, pretending to everyone that I was OK, and deluding myself that everything was going to get better. The team doctor didn't share any of my optimism, and in a very blunt conversation said that if I carried on like this I wouldn't be able to train... at all... ever.  She banned me from all training and sent me home with instructions to rest and keep my heart rate below 120 at all times until my resting heart rate returned to normal. 
 I hit a bit of a low, but if there's something I've learnt along the way is that if you can't do one thing, don't be miserable, just do something else! So when Simon phoned me up on my second morning of 'house arrest' saying  "You know we have been talking about getting a tandem after Rio well how about we go and look for one??..."   Well my bag was already half packed!  
Waking up in the dales...

And this kind of explains how we found ourselves on a tandem in Yorkshire. It was an opportunity to get away from the stresses of being at home but not being able to train.  I could get some gentle cross training exercise in whilst keeping my heart rate well below the designated 120 (so me not peddling hard was actually Dr's orders, not just me being lazy).  But most importantly it gave me the opportunity to change my focus and to see opportunities beyond Rio - an exciting opportunity to get back into riding bikes together, which is something we haven't even been able to imagine since my injury. Having proved tandem riding was possible and fun, I allowed myself to dream about all the incredible adventures we could have and the places I could see from the back of a tandem. This change of focus made being forced not to train much less stressful and almost certainly lifted my mood which then no doubt helped me to recover quicker.
Some cross training.
Returning back to the "now" I am happy to report that I am back in training, which feels amazing. OK my lungs are now hanging inside out, my muscles feel about 2" short for my body and I still have a way to go to get back up to full strength. But the good news is that my heart rate is back to normal and I can easily stay awake until a grown-up's bed time! 
Back to Training!! whoop!

It scares me quite a lot that that I'm going to the World Championships in 4 weeks, when I'm not convinced I will be anything close to race ready. But race ready or not, it will give me a great opportunity to practise all my racing processes, otherwise GB Rio selection (two weeks later) would be my first race of the season, which would be less than ideal.

This last three and a half years have not been easy, with some really big curve balls, but I'm definitely having an adventure, and definitely getting the opportunity to practise my resilience skills at the same time, which is never a bad thing!

 Beautiful Dorney lake on a winters morning
So my favourite coaching quotes, which have helped keep me motivated despite knowing I was falling behind, have been:

"If you cant paddle fast you may as well paddle perfectly slow"... Hours and hours of slow paddling could have been frustrating, but we have used the time as an opportunity to work on some technical areas I have been struggling with.  I'll say it again, kayaking is the most technically difficult sport I've ever been involved with.

"Don't look at how far you have to go, just see how far you have come"... Each session we would look for improvements from the week before, not just stress about where I might have been if I had not been ill so keeping my perspective positive.

I also feel very lucky because I've been given something to get excited about beyond Rio. I have found that there is a way for me to safely ride a bike at speed without fear of damaging myself despite my wobbly leg. 
Happiness is....
 I know the World Championships are fast approaching, and Rio is just around the corner, but the question that I find myself thinking about in idle moments is not, "I wonder how I will get on", but, "Which tandem do we want and where shall we go first?"