Hannah Cockroft is so much more than just an inspirational Paralympic athlete with three more gold medals to her name from Rio this summer. In supporting Cockroft’s claims to be the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year 2016, former Olympian Gail Emms reveals another side to the wheelchair racer than is usual seen or heard.
The Mixed Zone is publishing a series of articles by contributors backing each of the 10 nominees for the annual award before the winner is announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
The winner, from an impressive array of sporting performances by British female athletes during 2016, will be decided by the public. For details of how you can vote, along with the full list of nominations, CLICK HERE
I first met Hannah at a Youth Sports Trust event post-London 2012. I had never heard of Hannah before that incredible year of sport, but she was flung into the spotlight after winning the gold in the T34 100 and 200 metres at the Olympic Stadium. The event was a ‘London 2012 Legacy’ conference and Radio 5Live had decided to broadcast a discussion between a panel of MPs, Baroness Sue Campbell, school head-teachers and a few athletes, myself and Hannah included. I was there in good time, sat down, started chatting with various members of the audience who, I have to admit, were more mature than average age. And then in came Hannah.
If you have had the pleasure of meeting Hannah, you can guarantee you won’t forget it. Her entrance, her smile, her Yorkshire accent, just knocks you back, and then her personality hits you like a ton of bricks. I can honestly say I was cackling with laughter in minutes as this feisty, no-messing, straight-talking and hilarious para-athlete started regaling us with stories. It was brilliant to see the rest of the crowd’s jaws drop.
I’ve met numerous sportsmen and women and many flick that ‘media training switch’ as soon as the camera goes live, the microphone starts recording or the journalists lean in with their tape machines. Not many are true to themselves. None of them, if they were invited to a conference like this, would stick their noses in or ask the questions that no one else will. Hannah didn’t change. She was Hannah, stayed Hannah. Not once did she bat an eyelid. At 19 years old, she made many people and a lot of radio listeners think and question values and beliefs that they probably hadn’t thought about. I became a fan of Hannah’s instantly.
It also helps that she is pretty good at winning gold medals. Very good, in fact. She added three more in Rio, winning the 100, 400 and 800 metres, and at the grand old age of 24, is becoming a legend on the track. In addition to that hat-trick of Paralympic medals, she is world record-holder for every distance from 100 to 800 metres, as well as world and European champion. You just know there are many more titles to come.
All this from a young woman who, within 48 hours of being born, suffered two heart attacks and was told that she would never be able to do sport. Hannah recalls PE at school when the teachers would get her to just ‘sit on a mat’ while her classmates did the lesson. I have a feeling this is where Hannah gets that attitude of ‘I can do it’ rather than having people tell her she can’t do it.
Hannah is an incredible role model, not only to disabled people, but to everyone. Her no-nonsense approach is refreshing and needed. Her opinions on athletics kit sponsors, disability sport and, more recently, social media, have intelligence and a meaning. This incredible sportswoman is destined for many great things post-sport, but for now, that track is hers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles