So Claire, where did everything start for you?
"I lived in Kidderminster for a month until we moved to Dubai when I was 5. In Dubai, we were surrounded by water so you have to get used to it, purely as a lifesaving thing which is how I got into swimming. It wasn’t a love for it straight away but my passion definitely stemmed from that. To be fair I didn’t like swimming too much as a kid. I loved every other sport but swimming I was pretty scared of. "
So you were a multi-sport athlete right from the get-go?
"Yeah, I definitely did a lot of sports. We were really lucky living in Dubai in that you're surrounded by so many different clubs and opportunities. So I did quite a bit of tennis, some golf, and horse riding believe it or not. And then when we moved back to the UK where I did quite a lot of netball, hockey, and running. I didn’t do too much cycling at a young age, hence why that's taken more time to get used to. I’ve definitely always been sporty."
At what point did you decide to take up triathlon and switch focus?
"Basically, after getting home from Rio in 2016 I had to decide what I wanted to do and make some serious life choices. Do I go into the real world and actually get a real job? Or do I carry on and try another sport? I think I got quite stale in swimming and I was doing absolutely everything and just not progressing. All of my PBs were just staying stagnant and it's quite disheartening when you're doing everything you possibly can and just not moving forward at all. So I slightly fell out of love with it.
Triathlon has always been on my radar so I just decided to give it a go! And it was the best decision I made. You know I just love the variety and I love the triathlon community, it's such a great sport to be involved in."
Especially being a swimmer, your joints and your bones are not used to being on land, you're a floppy fish, those shins don't like the pounding on the ground so I had to put the reins on!
Was it tricky mixing up training for the first time? Were you torn between staying in the pool more often or did you just want to try these other sports?
"I was immediately just like “wow the pool is so boring”! You're in the water counting the tiles on the floor of the pool whereas going out on the bike or going out for a run you just see things you never would. It's quite liberating that side of things. I also knew that those two parts would be my biggest weakness and those were the parts I needed to get my head around. Especially being a swimmer, your joints and your bones are not used to being on land, you're a floppy fish, those shins don't like the pounding on the ground so I had to put the reins on! My heart and lungs were fit enough but my body was not used to the impact."
Did you have a mentor who already knew running and cycling to guide you?
"Ironically actually my boyfriend was a swimmer and he switched to triathlon so I had his experiences to guide me. I’m not going to say everything went well because things weren’t always plain sailing, with a few niggles but it's all a learning experience when you start knowing how much you can push your body. I think we've managed to build it up nicely so now I can take decent load rather than breaking down every time I go out for a run."
I would say just give it a go. It is an incredible community. From people just starting out to elite athletes, older people who are getting involved after having done their millionth triathlon too.
What bit of advice would you give to triathlon wannabes?
"I would say just give it a go. It is an incredible community. From people just starting out to elite athletes, older people who are getting involved after having done their millionth triathlon too. I think the fact that you're all there as part of an event, that's the real beauty of triathlon, from grassroots right up to the elite level you're on the same field. It makes it far less intimidating how friendly and welcoming it is.
Secondly, I'd say you are fit but be willing to take it step by step. Build on the building blocks rather than going in gung ho. It's a slow journey but it'll get you to your outcome sooner. Nobody wants to get injured."
How much cycling do you do per week?
"Cycling I do 2 x 4-hour rides and then 2 x 90-minute cycling sessions. I love cycling but the 4-hour rides can be quite tough, especially when riding alone. When it's cold and wet outside it's super hard to get the rides done. That being said I enjoyed cycling which has been quite a challenge for me, particularly riding a bike with one hand, with all of the gears and your brakes on one side. Particularly when I first learnt to ride a bike, going from what I had ridden as a kid i.e. a mountain bike and then suddenly on a road bike, it was quite the change. You're going down hills at crazy speeds and you’re like “are these brakes even going to stop me because there's just one brake!” That was definitely intimidating."
And your brakes are operated by using one hand at the same time?
Yeah so it's basically a cable splitter and then it just means everything is operated on one side. Which is amazing. Coupled with DI2 gears which can all be on one side too. Yeah, I really love cycling, it's probably my favourite part of the triathlon. But getting my confidence on a bike, I lived in Manchester when I first started triathlon and riding around the cities was pretty terrifying. I learnt that it just takes time which is what I'd say to anyone who wants to do cycling just give it time.
If we want to normalise disability it has to be easy to talk about. It can't be a taboo subject that you know parents are saying “shhh don’t talk about it”, because you're creating a taboo and you're encouraging that it shouldn't be talked about.
How have attitudes towards disability changed over your career?
Definitely! London 2012 was the real turning point, where para-sport was really put on a pedestal. I think in the past, it was kind of like “isn’t this brilliant, people with disabilities are getting involved in sport, well done, it's so inspiring” with no TV coverage and nobody knowing too much about it.
And then London came around and Channel 4 took on the whole super-humans campaign and I just think after that we were seen as elite athletes who happen to have a disability. People began to look past the disability a lot more and they were just seeing sport which is incredible. I think that helped to change perceptions of people outside of sport as well. I don’t think kids starred quite as much after that and they were much more willing to come and ask questions or want to talk about your disability which I think is very important.
If we want to normalise disability it has to be easy to talk about. It can't be a taboo subject that you know parents are saying “shhh don’t talk about it”, because you're creating a taboo and you're encouraging that it shouldn't be talked about. But actually, if we can make it as normal as possible and see more and more exposure then that’s the only way that things are going to change.
There's still a hell of a lot of things that can be done. I think there's still not enough representation within the media, we still don't get that much coverage. I think that if people don't see people like them in brands it's just not accessible. If cycling brands don't accommodate anyone with a disability then they won't feel welcome or see an opportunity to get involved with that sport. The more we can see how people are adapting things, how people are just cracking on, that will encourage people to get involved and give things a try.