Kadeena Cox brought back at least one medal of every hue from the Paralympic Games. She won two golds, one for athletics, the other in cycling – the first Briton to be a Paralympic champion in two sports at the same Games for 32 years – as well as a sprint relay silver and bronze in the 100 metres. Janine Self recounts the story of the Yorkshire lass for whom a smile and an infectious giggle are never far away.
Kadeena Cox’s tale of multiple success in Rio is the latest in a series of articles by The Mixed Zone contributors in support of each of the 10 nominees for the title of BT Sports Action Woman of the Year 2016. The winner will be announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
The winner, from a stunning list of sporting achievements 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
You could hear them before you saw them. High-pitched giggles, four voices trying to get a word in edgeways. Laughter. So much laughter. Then they appeared, tinkling silver medals around their necks, and wearing smiles the size of Copacabana Beach. Britain’s relay team of Kadeena Cox, Georgie Hermitage, Maria Lyle and Sophie Hahn were coming to talk about finishing second in the T35-38 100 metres at the Rio Paralympic Games.
With the greatest respect to Georgie, Maria and Sophie, the rest of this narrative belongs to history-making Kadeena, she of the biggest grin and a rainbow collection of athletics gongs to go with the gold in the cycling. Yes, two gold medals in two different sports. Not since Isabel Barr in 1984 has a British Paralympian achieved that (in swimming and shooting at Stoke Mandeville). Even Harry Potter was impressed. Creator J.K. Rowling sent a message of congratulations and became a Twitter follower after Kadeena’s spell-binding performances.
For the record, the trainee physiotherapist won the C4-C5 500-metres cycling time-trial and the T38 400 metres, breaking the world record in both. She finished third in the T38 100 metres, and then the finale was that relay. Not bad for someone who goes to work on a daily dose of “18 or 19” pills, self-injects every other day and who never quite knows what her body is going to do next.
Kadeena’s back-story puts into perspective the extraordinary achievement of a young woman, who only a couple of years ago wondered whether she would ever get out of bed again. Perhaps the thought crossed her mind as she led out Team GB as flag-bearer at the Closing Ceremony.
The lass from Leeds has multiple sclerosis, though no one knew that when she suffered a stroke at the age of 23. Her muscles can have a mind of their own. Symptoms include spasms, numbness, heat intolerance (and there were times in Rio when it was pretty hot), fatigue.
When she crossed the line after the time-trial she nearly collapsed and required support for her post-race interviews. Yet the smile never disappeared.
“I crossed the line and I was like, ‘Is this it? Have I really done it?’” Kadeena said afterwards. “I’m so happy and so glad that I’ve done it for everyone, everyone who has struggled with chronic conditions, to let them know that it’s not the end and they can achieve things.”
Kadeena, a keen runner before her stroke and subsequent diagnosis, started para-sports in 2015 with the aim of qualifying for Rio. At the world championships in Doha that year she won gold in the T37 100 metres. Her coach noticed that she was comfortable on the exercise bike in the gym and suggested she give cycling a go. Earlier this year she became track world champion at the 500-metres time-trial, too. The addition of a second sport has meant that she now commutes across the Pennines to Manchester’s velodrome for her cycling training, another challenge to overcome.
Anyone who has watched her will know that she wears a “sleeve” on her right arm and we are not talking tattoos. The orthotics glove helps contain spasms in her right arm. All her kit is reinforced to help with movement control and realignment. Then there is her pal, Norma.
She said recently: “We also have a machine called a Normatex which is used on my legs to flush out anything that might be in there in the hope that I don’t have jelly legs the next time I get up. I call it my pal Norma.
“The glove and vest make a huge difference, helping me to keep running towards the tail-end of my race and improve my sprint timings. In cycling they mean I can lock on to the handlebars more easily and have more control when I cross the finish-line.”
In first place, more often than not. Kadeena Cox, you are amazing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janine Self, Janine Self is an independent sports journalist and vice-chair of the Sports Journalists’ Association. She has worked at four Olympic Games, one Paralympic Games, two Commonwealth Games, the inaugural 2015 European Games in Baku, the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing,
Wimbledon, and men’s football and rugby World Cups. Janine reports regularly on men’s football for national newspapers Sunday Mirror and Daily Mail. She also sits on the women’s commission of the international sports journalists’ association, AIPS. Twitter: @janineself Janine’s latest articles