Role Models: Hannah Cockroft inspired by dance teacher and biggest rival

Halifax wheelchair racing star Hannah Cockroft MBE, 12-time world champion and five-time Paralympic champion, has revealed how her dance teacher and her biggest rival are among the role models who inspired her to be the best.
Hannah CockroftHannah Cockroft
Hannah Cockroft

Cockroft spoke to Natalie Jackson about five of her most influential role models.

Peter Eriksson

“Peter taught me everything I know about wheelchair racing, coaching me from age 16 until just after London 2012.

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“He taught me to deal with pressure and how to have a racing mindset.

“He moved to Canada as their national coach eight years ago, but still messages me before and after every race; he just genuinely cares.

“The best advice he gave me is that no one remembers the times, they only remember the medals. Athletics is a sport full of times; world records, personal bests and season’s bests, but if you think too much about times you’ll never perform at your best.

“I think about that before every race.”

Chantal Petitclerc

“I am not a shy person, but meeting two people in my life has made me speechless, and 14-time Paralympic gold medallist Chantal Petitclerc was one of them (the other was David Beckham!)

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“I was really lucky to have Chantal as my London 2012 Games coach, while Peter was head of the British team. I was fan-girling at every training session and race; it was a dream come true!

“I saw so many of my teammates at London 2012 lose themselves in that stadium and forget what they were there to do.

“British athletes hadn’t experienced those crowds before, but Chantal had. She helped me take it all in, without feeling totally overwhelmed, although I did have a cheeky smile on the start line!”

Penny Alexander

“I was three years-old when I decided I wanted to be a ballerina; arguably a ridiculous dream for a child who’d only just learned to stand.

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“My parents were great at saying ‘yes’, so my mum contacted every dance school in Halifax; getting nowhere until she met Penny.

“I danced in her classes, on stages and in concerts for the next 17 years; I even won awards.

“Penny taught me to stand properly, and then to walk.

“I was the only disabled person in the class, but she built lessons around me; if I couldn’t do a move, it didn’t go in the dance.

“What was so inspiring was that she helped me believe in myself. We worked out together what I could do, and she was so patient.

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“I might have been a step behind the others on stage, but I was always front and centre, involved in everything. When I started racing, she even donated concert programme proceeds to my race chair.

“Penny taught me that I could do anything I was willing to try, and that you have to be willing to try anything to work out who you are. Every disabled child needs a Penny!”

Malcolm Kielty

“I first met ‘Malc’ when he organised a tour of local secondary schools with the wheelchair basketball team he coached.

“I was 12 and it was the first time I’d seen any disability sport.

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“He lived near me, so my dad took me to his house to ask if I could join the team.

“Malc picked me up for training every Wednesday and Sunday for the next six years, and even got me an offer from the GB women’s team.

“I was the only girl on his team, so it would’ve been easy to say no but he took me in, trained with me and turned me into an athlete.

“Malc fund-raised to get us all personal chairs and made sure we always had transport to games. He fully deserved his MBE, which I supported.”

Kare Adenegan

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“Kare is my biggest rival, but my role model too. She has taught me, in a way no one else has, what being an athlete is.

“Until Kare came along, although winning wasn’t easy, I never had to train the way I train now.

“In 2018 she took my 100m world record at the European Championships in Berlin, leaving me with a silver medal.

“She’s taught me what losing feels like, giving me gratitude for my success. Without her I’d never have learned those things.

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“She’s given me the competition I always wanted and that people always wanted for the sport. She inspires me to train because I don’t want her to beat me.

“It’s a bit of plot twist, but without her I wouldn’t be as strong or as dedicated an athlete as I am.

“I love the fact that my success at London 2012 helped give her the chance, at 10 years old, to try wheelchair racing; what a legacy and privilege.

“For her to push me now and inspire me to be a better athlete is awesome.”

Hannah Cockroft will be hosting a special Q&A with our readers in the coming weeks.

To submit your question, email [email protected] and we will publish her answers in print and online.

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