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‘Sport 100% changed my life’ – Paralympics star Cashmore relishing rivalries ahead of Paris

Claire Cashmore talks rivalries, water quality, inspiring others and much more as she builds up to Paris 2024.

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Claire Cashmore is relishing her rivalry with Grace Norman and Lauren Steadman as the countdown to the Paralympics in Paris gathers pace.

The trio filled the podium in Tokyo, with Steadman taking gold and Cashmore bronze – a ninth Paralympic medal following eight in swimming.

The Brit is already a two-time World Champion in the PTS5 category, though last September in Pontevedra she had to settle for the silver. Norman won gold that day, with Steadman third and Cashmore is looking forward to upcoming battles with that pair before, during and after this summer’s Paralympics.

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‘I love those kind of battles’

Speaking to TRI247, she said: “The Worlds last year was just a really exciting race between myself, Lauren and Grace on the bike and that’s the kind of racing I love – when it’s close and exciting.

“Obviously, by the run, Grace very much went. And then Lauren and I were kind of battling it out. But, yeah, I love those kind of battles and seeing who can do it when the pressure’s on.”

Grace Norman, Claire Cashmore, Lauren Steadman - podium at World Triathlon Para Series Swansea 2023
The podium at the 2023 WTPS event in Swansea

Opportunities to race the pair – and over a triathlon – were few and far between in 2023, not helped by Steadman not getting a spot at the Test Event in Paris despite being the reigning champion.

On that, Cashmore told us: “It was a pretty rubbish rule [that she didn’t get in], but I suppose how do they overcome that? They’ve got to have a ranking system and if you haven’t raced or whatever, how do they then say to somebody else that’s higher ranked and has been working really hard to get their ranking up where you can’t race?

“So it’s a really tricky one and I really don’t know what the answer for it. We just need to get more starts. I think that’s the biggest thing, more than anything else. Hopefully – as the sport’s developing and getting bigger and better – they’re going to increase the amount of participants and then that will give more people an opportunity. Somebody like Lauren shouldn’t have missed out just because it was just such a small field.”

Learning all the time

And Cashmore was also quick to point out that it’s not just about herself, Steadman and Norman, adding: “Obviously Kamylle [Frenette], the Canadian girl, she’s coming up through the ranks and doing really well. You’ve also got Alisa [Kolpakchy] from Ukraine and I think the thing is, you just never know. That’s the exciting thing about sport, isn’t it? People can suddenly just find what works for them. So, yeah, definitely Lauren and Grace, which is really exciting, but hopefully some of the other girls will be up there and contending with us as well.”

Looking back at the Paris Test Event there were plenty of useful learnings for Cashmore, despite the fact that the water quality issue meant it became a duathlon.

She told us: “It was still brilliant to race in Paris, even though it was a duathlon, it was just amazing to see the course and how exciting it is going to be.

“I think the thing with Paris is that it’s a very different race to what we’ve ever done before, particularly with the cobbles and laps going through transition. All really exciting steps forward for paratriathlon, getting that excitement with the crowd around the transition area is also brilliant.

“I think for me in Paris I messed up quite a few times. It obviously changed to a duathlon in the morning and then they suddenly changed the course completely. There was an extra lap on the run and I just didn’t get it into my head, basically, and then panicked, I didn’t think I’d done enough laps. And so I got two penalties, essentially. One for going through the dismount line, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done. And then secondly, for leaving my shoes outside the box, just very slightly.

“But getting all those mistakes out of the way, realising that I was completely flapping and not massively staying in that moment, and kind of learning that when things aren’t going your way, how you deal with that – I think that was really positive. I think also learning how to ride on the cobbles was another big plus point.

World Triathlon Para Cup Paris 2023 - Grace Norman, Claire Cashmore, Kamylle Frenette
The top three at the Paris Test Event [Photo Credit: Wagner Araujo / World Triathlon]

“And while we didn’t get to swim in the race itself, that week showed the swim is going to be completely different to what we’ve ever done – swimming up and downstream and with quite a strong current, which is cool because it’s just different and it will change the dynamic of the racing. So I can’t wait, I think it’s just going to be absolutely awesome.”

‘It’s pretty scary’

On the issue of water quality – and not just in Paris – Cashmore belives athletes will have to adapt as necessary but that the bigger picture is a crucial area for the sport and the wider world in general.

The eight-time Paralympics swimming medallist explained: “From a personal point of view, obviously Grace is a very strong runner. That’s definitely her strength. So it’s kind of a bit frustrating on that level.

We don’t train day in, day out to be duathletes.

“We’re training for triathlon and it just seems so crazy when everything is being changed and I’m in a fortunate position that I’m still an okay runner, but there are some people out there whose run is the weakest part but they’re really strong triathletes. So a duathlon really affects them and I think that’s a real shame because it’s probably quite disheartening.

“But at the same time I think it’s good for you to be adaptable. And we definitely were there and I think everything was kind of thrown at us – weather, water quality, all those kind of things. And by the end of the season you’re just like, throw anything at me and I can deal with it.

“But it is pretty scary with the water quality and the weather conditions and you do worry about what we are doing to our planet. That’s my biggest concern – we need to start thinking about our waterways and we need to start thinking about how we’re doing things and being a bit more sustainable. I wish I could have all the answers.”

Inspiring others

As the Paralympics countdown gathers pace, Cashmore says “I think I’m in a good position and it’s just full steam ahead to Paris”, with training blocks in Lanzarote and Spain logged and an early-season target of Yokohama in May in the diary.

“I love racing but kind of have to hold myself back a little bit because so many races have come on the calendar, which is really exciting and incredible for paratriathlon. It’s great to see so many places wanting to host more competitions. But I’m very much saying to myself: ‘Rein yourself in! You don’t need to race every weekend just because there’s a race there.’

“I’d like to race Grace and Lauren as much as possible, so am thinking about where they’re going to be in terms of my likely schedule. And then obviously after Paris, we’ve got Worlds and Europeans, so it’d be great to go on to those as well and carry on the season a little bit longer, which I know will be quite hard, especially from like an emotional point after what will be the biggest Games of my career. But I just love the Worlds and I love going to Europeans, so it’d be a shame not to kind of do those as well.”

The paratri event in Swansea – which is now exactly 100 days away – is another one firmly circled in the calendar and is something she’s been closely involved with from the outset, sitting on the board.

“I think it’s so exciting to see the fact that British Triathlon are so passionate about having a standalone para event. There’s so many things that we’ve been trying to do to try and change the status quo a little bit and we’ll continue to fight for things that hopefully boost the profile of paratriathlon.

“It’s hopefully about inspiring the next generation of paratri athletes. And I don’t just mean those who aspire to become future Paralympians. It’s about just getting involved in the sport and realising that there are opportunities out there – come and try the taster events and stuff. Just to see how incredible sport is in the community that we have in triathlon.

Sport is such an incredible vehicle for change, and particularly for me. I know that sport 100% changed my life.

“I really lacked confidence and I was so ashamed of my arm and hated the body that I was given. And sport was massively the changing thing for me.

Claire Cashmore World Paratriathlon Championship Abu Dhabi 2022
Claire Cashmore winning in Abu Dhabi in 2022 [Photo credit: World Triathlon]

“But I think the thing that sometimes we forget is sport is not the only avenue. A lot of people with a disability don’t want to get involved in sport and they don’t want to become Paralympians. Somebody with a disability just happens to be going for a run or whatever, and it’s like, oh, you’re going to go to the Paralympics?

“And it’s like, no, you’d never ask Joe Bloggs, who doesn’t have a disability, if you saw them running down the street, are they going to go to the Olympics? And it’s just that funny thing that people feel they have to ask. And I think that sometimes puts a bit of pressure on people when actually, they just want to do it for general fitness.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  
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