Seven gold medals, an MBE and victory in Strictly Come Dancing - Hannah Cockroft's parents speak of the Halifax wheelchair racer's inspirational journey so far

Hannah Cockroft's achievements so far are nothing short of incredible.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 1:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 2:02 pm
Hannah at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this year (Getty Images)

The 29-year-old wheelchair racer from Halifax has won seven Paralympic gold medals to date, and holds the world records for the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres and 1500 metres, along with Paralympic records for 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and 800 metres.

Titles bestowed on her include an MBE for services for sport and Freedom of the Borough of Halifax, and she is patron and ambassador for several charities.

All this after doctors told her parents that Hannah was unlikely to ever be able to do any kind of sport.

Rachel and Graham Cockroft and Hannah's brother Daniel

Two heart attacks within the first 24 hours of her life left her with multiple areas of brain damage and a collapsed lung.

She may not ever walk, doctors said, but they advised her mum and dad - Rachel and Graham - to try to get on her feet as much as possible, and the determined youngster took her first steps when she was three years old.

Hannah grew up in Mount Tabor with brothers Joshua and Daniel and went to Wainstalls School and Holy Trinity Senior School.

Rachel said support from both schools was invaluable to Hannah. “The head at the Wainstalls got the school adapted as best he could for a 150-year-old school and she was involved in everything, from sports day to nativities,” she said.

Hannah when she first started training at Spring Hall Athletics Tract

“They even invented a race for her - the crab race - at sports day so there was something she could do.”

It was while Hannah was at secondary school that she started getting involved in sport, taking part in swimming, wheelchair basketball and discus.

She joined Cardinals wheelchair basketball team after they did a demonstration at her school and played with them for six years.

Her career in athletics started “by accident” said Graham. They were at a British Athletics talent day when Hannah met Ian Thompson, husband of Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Hannah playing wheelchair basketball

“He let her have a go in a racing chair and that was it,” said Graham.

Hannah fell in love racing and the family borrowed a chair so that she could start training at Spring Hall Athletics Track. The following year, Hannah stormed to victory as a wheelchair racer at the 2008 School Games.

In 2009, Hannah started training under the guidance of a new coach, Peter Eriksson, who later became a head Paralympics coach.

She trained hard after school and over the weekends, with her parents ferrying her to and from the track every day.

Graham said it was challenging finding a long strip of flat land to train locally but Hannah would practice near the windmills at Ovenden Moor. “Hannah was up there in snow and rain and wind so the conditions in Tokyo were no problem for her. She was right at home when it started raining,” he said.

Hannah made her Paralympic debut in the London 2012 games where she won gold in the 100m and 200m, set two new Paralympic records and became known as “Hurricane Hannah”.

She is now the most decorated British athlete in World Championship history, with 12 World Champion titles to her name. She repeated her Paralympic success at Rio 2016 - bringing home gold in the 100m, 400m and 800m - and won two more gold medals in Tokyo this year, even battling through a hand injury in her second race of the games.

“She would have raced if she had broken fingers,” said Graham.

Rachel said much of her daughter’s success has come from her determination and her love of her sport.

“Hannah enjoys it,” she said. “If she didn’t enjoy it, she wouldn’t have put so much effort in.

“If anyone said Hannah couldn’t do something, she would do her damndest to show she could. She could be bloody-minded at times and sometimes still is.”

“Hurricane Hannah”, as she has become known, has a host of victories under her belt off the track as well as on it.

In 2012 she was awarded the honour of Freedom of the Borough of Halifax.

The following year, after her 2012 Paralympics success in London, she was given an MBE for Services to Sport in the New Year’s Honours list.

She made history by being nominated for the 2013 Sports Personality of the Year award - the first Paralympian ever to be nominated outside of a Paralympic year - and was named British

Sportswoman of the Year by the Sports Journalist Association in 2017, becoming the first para-athlete to ever win the award in its 57-year history.

In 2016 Hannah was made a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and was the youngest person to hold the title by over 30 years.

She has also been invited to appear on several hit TV shows, including Crystal Maze and The Great British Bake Off, presented a six-part series for the BBC’s Countryfile, and in 2014 she starred and won the Sport Relief edition of Strictly Come Dancing.

Hannah has given speeches at the House of Lords and in front of the Queen, and spoken for the likes of Ralph Lauren, BT, Muller, and Channel 4 on topics including accessibility and resilience.

She has been made Honorary Doctor at both York St John University and Bradford University, and was named The Sunday Times Disability Sportswoman of the Year in 2017.

Her charity work is wide-ranging and she is a patron of several causes including The Care Workers’ Charity and Whizz Kids.

She is keen to promote the many benefits of disability sport