04 May 2020

Five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft on how Covid-19 may have extended her career

Five-time Paralympic gold medallist Hannah Cockroft believes the coronavirus pandemic has extended her career.

All of Cockroft’s competitions have been suspended or postponed, including the Tokyo Paralympics, but in an exclusive interview with NewsChain, she said she may make it to another Games as a result.

She said: "For a long time I was thinking ‘is Tokyo going to be my last games’? But it's only three years so I may as well go for Paris 2024!

“I feel like it [the virus] has forced it [my career] to be longer. It's going to be a very busy three years, we are looking at two major championships every year, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of having so many goal posts to aim for.”

Cockroft was heading to Tokyo after once again becoming the T34 100m World Champion in November and was chasing her sixth Paralympic title.

She revealed she first heard about the postponement via the news and social media. 

“We officially heard from our governing bodies three to four hours later,” Cockroft added.

"Yeah it would have been nice to get some warning because as soon as it was announced my phone was ringing off the hook, journalists were asking for interviews, people were asking how I was feeling. It didn't give us any time to think about how we did feel about it or be upset because it was very immediate.

"But I'm not sure when the governing bodies were told. Maybe they found out at the same time as us? It was expected but it all happened very quickly.

"I have since processed my feelings about the postponement of the Games and I'm still upset it's not going ahead this year. I started this year in really good shape. I think you enter a Paralympic year thinking differently and working harder than you already did and I feel the start of the year was kind of a waste now. 

“I'm still gutted they aren't going ahead but it's definitely for the best and now we are listening out for if we're able to race this year. If we will be able to get out on the track and train, it's just a waiting game so I'm just getting used to being in my house and doing what I can but it's getting a little bit boring!"

Cockroft, in common with many other athletes, expressed her disappointment at the postponement on social media, only to find herself being labelled ’selfish’.

"One of the things that annoyed me most was people saying 'oh you know there's bigger things going on right now, sport doesn't matter'. Every athlete that put their feelings out there, every single one of us got at least one reply of ‘oh stop being so selfish, it doesn’t matter about the Games'.

"And as much as I agree, sport doesn't matter right now, it's not important, actually for some of us we have to put our lives on hold. We have trained for four years, if not longer, for the goal of the summer and I keep trying to think of an alternative that makes people understand how much we put into getting into those Games, but I don't think there is one.

 "I think I want to say back to all these people, let us be upset. 

"Everyone is allowed to be upset that kids can't complete their GCSEs or A Levels, this is our big exam and our big test and we should be allowed to be upset that we are going to miss it. It's going to take a lot of reorganising, planning, talking to coaches and, for a lot of us, a lot of soul searching.

“We have to see if we have it in us to push our bodies to the limit, which is a lot to ask when a few of us are getting older!”

Cockroft has been with her partner Nathan Maguire during lockdown (PA Images) (PA)

Mental health and motivation is something the 27 year-old says she is struggling with at the moment. 

However, she says it's worse for athletes who were going to retire after the Games this summer.

"I think we are in the same boat as everyone. Sometimes you wake up motivated and ready to attack the world and other days you think ‘what’s the point? I'm not going to be able to share my progress with anyone, so is there any point in training?'

"We've got over a year now to do the same thing day in, day out, so some days it is quite tough.

"I think it is going to be harder for athletes who had planned on retiring this year. Some were planning to get to the Games, retire and then were going to get married and have a family.

"Luckily I wasn't planning on that but for those athletes it's making the decision of whether to carry on or not. 

"Another year is a big ask on your body, to keep pushing yourself, mentally it can be really tough. 

“There are days when there's no light at the end of the tunnel, there's no goal, there's nothing to aim for. It's a struggle to force yourself to keep pushing your body, those are the days your body feels tired and sore!”

Hannah's own mental wellbeing has been aided by fellow athlete and boyfriend Nathan Maguire.

"I think it has really really helped, obviously he was looking forward to his second Games and I was looking forward to my third and we could kind of share our disappointment at a time no one else really understood it.

"We were both training well [before the postponement], we had new chairs and new equipment, we were feeling good and we were ready to go. I think it helped that I had him to talk to and say ‘I’m a bit gutted we aren't going' and he completely understood.

“Some of my friends were like 'oh you can just have a year off now' and I was like ‘it doesn’t really work like that!' If they aren't an athlete they don't understand how it works.”

Cockroft is still training hard at home and, while she can't get on the track, she is sticking to her schedule.

"My training hasn't changed massively, obviously I'm not on the track, but I'm doing sessions at home. I go on the roller which is a treadmill for a wheelchairs, I have one of them in my house, or I've been pushing around on my local road. So I'm still able to do most things as I usually would. 

"I'm not doing as much sprinting as I won't need that for a while so I am keeping my fitness up with longer pushing and reps and technique work. Ultimately I'm still training six times a week, having six chair sessions a week, two gym sessions a week and making the most of it really. 

“It's really strange, my coach is asking how does that [my training times] compare to how I would usually perform at this time of year and I'm saying I don't know. 

"This time of year I'm usually on the track so it's difficult to base where you are at in your training so I'm trying to do as much as I can.”

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