Today we welcome multiple Paralympian medal winning swimmer and triathlete Claire Cashmore MBE to INCUS In Conversation With…
Now that Tokyo and the potential for even more medals (to go with Claire’s impressive existing haul) is only weeks away, never mind her recent win at the Super League Triathlon London event, we thought we’d catch up with her before she leaves.
JP - “Firstly, congratulations on your win at SLT London recently! How was it getting back to racing after the lockdown?”
CC – “It was amazing to be back racing, I think to just actually have that opportunity was incredible.
So many sports still don't have that and it just felt so good to finally have that that real butterfly feeling in your stomach and nerves rolling around.
I absolutely loved it and I think that especially for me, I train to race. In the last year there hasn't been an opportunity, it's just been trying to train throughout, which I can find quite hard, not having a goal in mind. It's quite normal in athletes and overachievers that we always have a goal, we always have something to be aiming for and that's probably been one of the hardest things in in the last year was not having that and just kind of keep plodding along, keep training with no end in sight essentially”
JP - “What were your main thoughts on the event?"
CC – “It was tough, it was completely different to any other racing that I’ve ever experienced, but that made it exciting! I really enjoyed doing something completely different, I definitely find the whole Zwift thing a lot harder, and the treadmills!
JP - “Did you miss having a live audience at the race? Do you benefit from having one normally?”
CC – “It was amazing to be back in the Paralympic pool (nine years later!) and relive some of those really great memories of the packed out stands, Union Jacks flying around everywhere and the noise being absolutely phenomenal.
It was quite strange not having any of that this time with the event, but I almost forgot about that, they did really well in the circumstances, for instance, having a DJ to get us in the zone. It was odd looking up at the empty seats during the run though. I think it would be really cool if they continue to do it in this set up as with an audience it would be fantastic, as well as the normal triathlon races outside on the roads too.”
JP - “What are your thoughts on SLT moving into organising paratriathlon?"
CC – “I think it’s a huge step forward, especially that it was only decided, I think, 5 or 6 weeks earlier that they were going to include Paratriathlon. It’s a really tricky one, you know, how do we make it competitive, especially when so many countries weren’t able to compete. I think it is we need to keep exploring, you know, how it would work best, especially in the short term with travel restrictions. I’d love to see a full field of international athletes for each category going head to head at an event as soon as we can though.
I think in terms of inclusion, triathlon is actually quite head of the game in comparison to a lot of other sports and forward-thinking inclusion of para athletes. I know that in a lot of other sports, para athletes don’t really compete alongside the able bodied at all, so for us to be considered is huge progress. I hope that it will encourage the depth and competitiveness in each class and to encourage more people to get involved with the added visibility and ore exposure. It is still a very new sport given 2016 was its debut but its getting bigger and better which is very exciting”
JP - “Have you found that support has been growing for parasports or does it still have a long way to go?”
CC – “Yes I think it is and it is growing in the right direction.
Obviously, there are things that I would like to see more of. I would love to see more visibility in brands, I think for instance that you guys at INCUS are doing a great job of trying to be as inclusive as possible and that is really encouraging.
I’d love to see other brands follow suit in having more representation on their social media channels so that you know that somebody with a disability can see somebody like them doing it and make it more accessible to them. The often-seen alternative is seeing just able-bodied people doing it and thinking how will that kit work for me or that equipment fit me? If you see someone like you then you are more likely to get involved, I don’t even mean in elite sport but just in physical activity which is good for everyone.
Overall it is moving in the right direction but we still a way to go!”
JP - "Do you have any advice for youngsters who are wanting to get into swimming or triathlon?"
CC – “I think the main thing is just… TRY!
Take all those opportunities that come your way. Sometimes it can be scary to do the unknown and to step outside of your comfort zone or maybe not follow the crowd or what your friends are doing. If you’re given the opportunity or you see something that you like the look of in sport, just go out there and try it!
You’ve got to be patient, you can’t expect to be amazing straight away, but it will come if you commit to it. Just think about how long it takes us a baby to learn to walk! You master that skill and become proficient in it, it’s like that in any sport but just enjoy the whole journey and don’t be afraid to fail, that’s normal.”
JP - “How has training been for you in lockdown? Have you found any novel ways to keep on top of your fitness?”
CC – “Training in lockdown has been quite good in that I haven’t had a huge amount of distractions. I’ve been able to knuckle down and really train. I’ve found that my rest and recovery has been the best it has ever been as I haven’t had anything to do or anywhere to go.
I think the main things has been the mental fatigue because there is nothing else other than triathlon and that’s your main focus. I’ve had to really get that balance right and find something totally unrelated to give me that healthy distraction and give me the balance that is important to me.
I am also very lucky in that I have been able to train with the Elite Athlete exemption this time which meant that I could still be in the pool and in the gym. First time round, that wasn’t there and that was when I had to get creative and think outside the box. I ended up putting cans of beans and even a bottle of Baileys in a rucksack and squatting that or putting my partner Dave on my back and walking up and down the stairs with him. I couldn’t get any gym equipment so I had to use what was to hand!
As for swimming, I was swimming in a paddling, which I do not miss at all. It was absolutely freezing and there were little wiggly worms in the bottom so really not the most pleasant experience. It was just trying to get as much feel for the water as possible.”
JP - “How are you feeling about your preparation and chances for Tokyo?”
CC – “Preparation is going really well. I’m just hoping that more races will come about as although I feel I am training well, it would be good to see if that translates into races. We’ve been doing a bit of heat prep to make sure that we are prepared for what it is going to feel like in Tokyo, unfortunately this year we haven’t been to go abroad and see any sun or heat, so we’ve been trying to get that from Loughborough! We’ve instead been in a hot closed room with the humidity built up to try and simulate it as much as possible!
I think after the last year or two, it will be a very different games and everyone will just be excited to see live sport. Just being able to show off all that hard work and incredible things people have been doing will be really exciting.”
JP - “Do you have any particular aims for Japan? Are there any things you want to see or do if you have chance?"
CC – “To be honest I don’t think we are going to be able to do anything. I think we will pretty much be locked away in the village and just let out for training and racing. I think this time I will just have to visit the amazing sites with another visit. We are there ultimately for one job and one job only; the other stuff is just a massive bonus.
The aim for me is just to have as well an executed race as possible. Triathlon is so unpredictable, so just to go there and be the best prepared that I can be on that start and execute things as well as I can. I don’t think you can ask any more of yourself and trust the process as the outcome is the thing you can’t fully control.”
JP - “Lastly, anything you’d like to add?”
“So this year was very exciting as during the first lockdown I took a huge leap outside of my comfort zone and decided to write a book! As you can tell, I am very passionate about representation of people with disabilities and trying to normalise disabilities as much as possible. To that end, I decided to do something about it and write a children’s book. That will be coming out in June and is called ‘Splash’. The main thing is to normalise it for children, the main character has a disability but that is not mentioned, the focus is instead on her taking little steps outside of her comfort zone and going from being scared of the pool to finally achieving what she wants to achieve. The story is that a growth mindset is really important for children and the possibilities of what they can achieve is endless, disability or not.”
Claire’s debut book ‘Splash” can be found here: https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/splash-claire-cashmore?variant=32836557144142