Hannah Cockroft MBE is Britain’s best-known Paralympian. The 24 year-old wheelchair racer from West Yorkshire is seven times wold champion and a world record holder in four events, as well as being patron to many charities and a savvy business owner. Disabled from birth with an unknown diagnosis, the exceptional Hannah won no less than three gold medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and she’s now training hard to retain her hard-won titles at the 2020 games in Tokyo. We caught up with her in a (rare) break from training.
You have had to finance yourself to a large extent. Do you see Paralympians ever getting the same sort of sponsorship as Olympians?
I am still pushing for a kit deal. One of the replies I got was they don’t want to sponsor me because I don’t wear shoes – but I do when I am on the podium getting a gold medal! I have got management behind me and amazing sponsors. They are really supportive and I don’t want to jump into any sponsorship deals where they are going to use my name for something that might damage my reputation or make me look silly.
You have your own sports management consultancy 17 Sports Management Ltd. How important is it for you to think about life after racing?
It is really important. I meet so many people think their gold medal is going to give them work for life. It just doesn’t happen that way unfortunately. For me, I am currently in a gap year from university where I am studying journalism. I started my sports management consultancy because after London 2012 I had so many terrible experiences with management companies.
I wanted someone I could trust, someone that other athletes could trust and respect and the only way I could do that was to do it myself. We have got 12 athletes on our books now and I think everyone seems to be happy. I get nice comments, and it gibes you something to look to going into when racing finishes.
You come from a sporty family but you weren’t allowed to do any PE or sport at school Is part of your motivation to encourage participation in disability sport?
There is still a way to go in terms of quality and getting everyone involved. It is about giving people the opportunity and choices and facilities.
Before London 2012, disabled sport was difficult to get involved in, it was still hidden away. For me, it took my school getting a wheelchair basketball team from outside to come in and show the other students what it was like to be me, and for me to realise that a whole other world existed.
It was the first time I had met another disabled person or seen disabled sport – it blew my mind.
You started wheelchair racing at 15 and breaking world records three years later. What sort of goals did you set yourself when you started? It was something I had been held back from for so long, but also surrounded by for so long, I wanted to try everything. I didn’t do it for the fitness or health or any of those things, but because I was surrounded by people like me. It was about not being told I couldn’t do things but being encouraged to try that little bit harder, to go a little bit faster.
Why have you said you don’t want people to regard you as inspiring for what you do?
I have been disabled my entire life. I have known nothing else. When people imply how hard I work and how fast I go and what I give to my sport, that is great, but when people say “you are doing something with your life, that is amazing”, I think that is quite offensive.
You would never go up to an able-bodied person and say that, because it’s part of everyday life. Sometimes people concentrate on the wrong parts of what is inspiring.
You’ve said you wanted to be the “next Tanni Grey-Thompson”, never getting beaten until you retire. What are your goals now?
I want to prove I am the best in the world. I work hard, train hard and there are girls who can beat me who are aged 15 and 16 – I am one of the older girls on the track. I don’t want to be beaten by the new me!