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The Lauren Steadman Story: From ‘Strictly’ to ‘Who Dares Wins’, an incredible triathlete AND TV superstar

Dancing on Strictly, surviving the SAS, a new sport and studying for a PhD... Nobody can accuse Lauren Steadman of taking things easy

Chief Correspondent
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In the first part of this extended interview with Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games gold medallist Lauren Steadman, the focus was on her triathlon journey, from the heights of Tokyo – through some dark times – and the road to Paris.

The 31-year-old Steadman however is far from ‘just’ a triathlete, and that’s the focus here in part two, as we explore beyond her swim / bike / run talents.

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Getting out of the comfort zone

Lauren’s profile to the wider public beyond sport and triathlon was magnified by her highly successful appearances on Strictly Come Dancing and SAS: Who Dares Wins. What did she learn, what did it change and what were the ups – and downs – of such public exposure?

“It was a calculated risk taking it, because it obviously took me out of triathlon training for three months. But what it did was give me the platform to shine a light on Paralympic sport, on paratriathlon, a voice for girls, a voice for disability and show people – with two shows at opposite ends of the spectrum – that anybody, at any age with any disability can be who they want to be. It’s one of the biggest things that I like to talk about.

Lauren Steadman Strictly Come Dancing
Lauren Steadman on ‘Strictly’ – a world away from triathlon

“We have this element of fear when we stay in a comfort zone. But actually, what does it look like when we evolve, when we become a different version of ourselves? Sometimes I do wish I didn’t have that trait, to be happy with what you’ve achieved so far and not always aiming for what else is challenging me.

“But, I’ve had so many people since come up to me throughout the years and say that since I heard you speak, or since I watched you, I’ve decided that there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m going to do it. So to give people a fulfilment, an ability to think outside of their comfort zone, I think I’ve always been curious to see where the limits are and the want to try things, with only one hand.

Lauren Steadman speaking microphone

“The only downside is that you are right, people do have an opinion, but the way to counteract that is that if you were not there, and you were not behind the scenes and you know everything that’s gone on… you don’t know the full story. Each and every time I do anything I do, my biggest thing is to do it with integrity and respect for others and take as many people along the journey as you can.

“It’s very different from the world of sport, but to be recognised for something that you feel is valuable, I really do enjoy having I guess this public presence. Even now, I’m usually quite a private athlete but having caught COVID and how it impacts you and taking people on that journey, when I do race people will be able to be there with me and know the hardships and not just the ups. But you learn that as you get older, and sharing things with people.

“So yes, I am juggling a lot, but everything I’m doing I’m enjoying”

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Chasing WINTER Paralympic success

As we reported recently, as well as chasing the defence of her Paralympic triathlon title, Steadman has also taken on the challenge of reaching the Winter Paralympic Games in cross country skiing. It’s something she is very excited about.

“It’s a really interesting morph. I love triathlon, but because I’m a beginner now at a new sport, the fire for that is greater than the fire for triathlon.

“I did that World Cup event having only ever had six weeks total on these skis. I didn’t come last, I think I was 13th out of 15 girls and the top 10 had already been to the Paralympics. I’ve got to basically finish two places higher to qualify for Milan [Ed. 2026 Winter Paralympic Games venue], so considering I hadn’t been on snow for a year when I put those skis on in January, I’ll take my chances.

“I’m doing it purely based off of a triathlon engine, and I think that will still see triathlon as a part of my life following Paris, as to build my engine purely on skis wouldn’t be the easiest, because I can’t really access it yet on snow. So we’ll have to build me via triathlon and slowly morph me to getting an engine on the snow.

“So post-Paris, the plan is to get me as much time on the snow as possible – probably in Lillehammer, where GB Snowsport is based. I’ll do as many World Cup races as I can, as like triathlon I have to be so far up the rankings, and I would love to go to a Winter Games. My engine is not a problem, it’s handling skills and learning how to ski – going 70km/h on these little skis is petrifying. But yes, that’s still something I want to do.”

Lauren Steadman Cross Country skiing
New challenges
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Doctor, Doctor

As well as multiple elite sporting challenges in progress, Steadman is also continuing her education. With a degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Business and Management on her C.V. already, she is now on the road towards a doctorate with a PhD.

She is combining both her academic and sporting backgrounds, as she explained to me when I asked her to outline what she’s up to.

“I’m with Portsmouth University, who in terms of being supportive are fantastic. I’m out here [Ed. Lauren is currently based for an extended period in Lanzarote], I’m remote, and the university also fund my physio and my strength and conditioning coach, so they are supporting me massively.

“I have 12 athletes, across Olympians and Paralympians having all had one Games experience under their belt. There will be three studies as part of my PhD, but in the first one every Sunday I message to see how their week was so I get 52 data points over the year. I look at what they have sent back – it could be a picture, voice note, text – summarise how their well-being looks and every four weeks we sit down and talk about what they have submitted. I’ll have basically captured a year’s worth of data in the Paralympic and Olympic year and hopefully catch that post-race blues, any anxiety beforehand etc.

“It’s gone really, really well, and I think having gone through such a tough time with my own mental health the last two years, the stigma of telling the whole world that actually I need a break or I think I’m going to retire, there’s so many things that I went through that I hope we’ll be able to give a bit of data back to UK Sport and teams like that to help us create a better structure for helping us.

Lauren Steadman Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman wins Paratriathlon gold at Tokyo 2020.

“The second study is an autoethnography; me journaling this whole journey, really honestly, and being able to study and pick that apart, and hit different angles within being an athlete.

“And the final one I want to focus on the transitional stage. So, interview athletes – pre and post Games – and probably interview a few I know that have retired since Tokyo, and understand what do you have in place, what does that look like, what skills are you going to transfer across. Paralympics GB and Team GB work with so many huge companies, and here’s a set of athletes that literally have the most incredible skillset, so let’s harness them, let’s use them and help them transfer. I’m very passionate when I talk about it, but that’s what the PhD looks like.

“In Rugby for example, they have something called an exit strategy. In any game, somebody could take a hit and then it’s game over. So what does that look like, if any of those scenarios happen? I know we are focused on performance, as we should be, but, you also need to think beyond that.

“I had a lot of kick-back when I went of Strictly, that I wasn’t being professional enough… but I’d like to think that I’ve done quite a bit for the Paralympic movement and the paratriathlon movement by doing that. I don’t think I’d have had the impact, had I not done that.

“I’ve switched to part-time for this year so that I’ve got time to train, but I’m very much enjoying something that I very much know the ins and outs of, and can make a difference.”

Growing the audience

It’s a perennial question being regularly asked across many sporting organisers – how can we continue to grow sport generally, and in this instance, para sport. With the additional eyes that a Paralympic and Olympic year provides, how can we capture some of that audience and not lose them for another four years?

“Just my recent couple of days in Paris with adidas come to mind. For example, I think this is the first mascot for the Paralympic Games which are identical, except that the Paralympic one has a running blade. I thought, wow, this symbolises in a strange way a little bit for equality.

“Secondly, it was the kit launch for adidas global for all of the countries they are supporting and actually it was an Olympian that said it to me, “How lovely was it that it was an Olympic and Paralympic event combined?” All athletes, from all countries, and I hadn’t really thought about it, but it was just showcasing everyone equally.

Lauren Steadman adidas 2024 kit reveal

“I think the fact that we will be broadcast on European time will help in terms of viewers, and I also think that there’s a level of professionalism and accessibility for these games that everything is being thought of. More coverage will be available, and I think some sports are doing it well. In triathlon you can watch via TriathlonLive now most of the World Para Series events already.

“It’s also making things relatable. Out in Abu Dhabi I had some friends come to watch who had a young girl, Yasmine, who was four. We didn’t get to do the race, but we did a simulation on the side. Yasmine watched Mel [Ed. Melissa Nicholls] who was in her handcycle, and Yasmine asked, ‘why are you not using your legs like Aunty Lauren?’ Mel gave her an answer and so it was an education and the she saw Michael [Taylor] and Finlay [Jakes] putting on their legs and running off and they raced her. Yasmine moving forward will never think about one arm or one leg, so for me it’s a sense of normalisation, asking questions and just continuing to give increased coverage.

“Things like that, just continuously trying to change what is seen as normal so that people don’t think twice and so whether it is the Olympics on TV or the Paralympics, they just think we are going to watch some sport today. I think that’s the key.”

Los Angeles 2028?

I’m always wary of asking ‘post’ questions before the main event – Paris 2024 – has happened… but I had to ask Lauren if triathlon at Los Angeles 2028, and another four year cycle, was in her thoughts.

“With complete honesty, I’m 95% sure that this is my last summer Games. Not just because of being at the top of my game for however many years and going into my third decade of being an athlete now, but I have other things that I want in life; a partner, marriage, kids and that’s very hard to multitask when you are an athlete.

“I’m not going to go ‘bang’, and close it all straight away. I still need to remain competitive and fit, at least until the winter Games, so I have already discussed with British Triathlon what that might look like going into next season. It’ll be shame, because I know that LA has the Mixed Team Relay and that kind of thing really excites me, but probably not John.

“I think one more summer, one more winter and that will be six Games under my belt and I’ll be happy with that.”

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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