Hull & East Yorkshire PFC are delighted to launch a mini-series of Q&A features. First up, our Marketing & Communications Officer Kai, discusses with Great Britain Paralympian, Samantha Kinghorn or Sammi as she likes to be called. The double world champion, shares about her career so far, her transition to the sport after a life-changing accident including barriers she's faced in society. Also, she talks about her first experience at a Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 and how preparations are going for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.
(K) Firstly, could you tell me about your career so far. You’ve represented Great Britain in Rio and other international competitions. How and where did it all start for you?
(S): So, my whole career started at the age of 14 after I had an accident that left me paralysed from the waist down. I spent six months in a rehabilitation hospital and during that six months is where I was taken to Stoke Mandeville for the Spinal Injury Games, where I tried out a number of different sports and found wheelchair racing. I got my first wheelchair racing chair in 2012, which was so amazing and exciting. I was so pleased to get back into sports as it was something I really enjoyed before my accident as I was a very social able child. I was always wanting to do what my other friends were doing; I was always at afterschool sports clubs. So, I was really excited about getting back into sports. I really didn’t know what my aim was at the beginning I know it wasn’t to get into the Paralympics it was just because I loved sport and I wanted to meet new people. It wasn’t until 2014 that after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games after competing in my first 1500m I soon realised I might be pretty good at this and could make a career out of this. But up until then and to be honest even to this day I do it because I really enjoy it, love training and pushing my body through the pain barriers even when I’m so sore and wake up the next morning ready to push on. It all started because I loved and enjoyed it and now, I want to be a Paralympic Champion one day
Do you think your chosen sport has helped you accept your disability as you had a life-changing accident rather than being born with a disability?
Yeah, completely I never met anyone in a wheelchair before my accident so the world of disability to me I was completely clueless to it all. So, in the beginning, I had no idea of what I was going to be able to do, what I wasn’t going to be able to do and that was a quite scary and unknown time for me and my family as I didn’t know nor did I meet anyone who had an accident like mine. So, I didn’t know what was going to happen. But once I started sport I met people who were affected by their disability more than I am and see what they are doing I realised very quickly there weren’t any barriers that was going to completely stop me from pushing myself.
How do you think the Paralympics and London 2012 has helped society accept and accommodate a disability?
I think I’m very lucky that I came into the sport just at the right time really as I came in just as London 2012 and parasport was on the up as people had started noticing. I feel very lucky to have been involved in the whole movement, I actually went down to London to watch and it was such an incredible experience. It was soon after that people had started noticing me and I was lucky to get sponsors and lucky enough to see Parasport in a huge movement how people should see it. I dread to think what it was like before London as athletes and disabled people had to fight for media coverage in general.
A month before Rio 2016 Paralympics a crisis hit due to funding. Do you think this is still one of the many areas that disabled people face as a barrier within their life?
Yeah, I think in parasport there is always going to be a funding difference and it will always be really difficult as we feel we deserve the same funding rights as to anyone who is able-bodied. So, it always difficult to see what other people are getting and I think just because I can’t stand up and put one leg in front of the other that doesn’t mean I can’t get the prize money able-bodied people get or anything else even in society. I feel as disabled people we will always have to fight, it’s one thing about us is that we can be stubborn and that is a great thing to have as we will fight for what we are worth and that’s good that we won’t just lie down. As we deserve the same as anyone who is able-bodied. We are all the same.
With the way ticket sales increased during Rio, do you think right we’ve changed somewhat of a society opinion on disability?
I think Britain do a fantastic job of highlighting the Paralympics on the television and promoting disability sport, making it easy for able-bodied people to come and watch what we can do. But, in some other countries, it’s just not the same, where disabled people are fighting that battle. I speak to my competitors and they want their country to be like Britain where we look at the ticket sales in London 2012 Paralympics and even the world championships. They aim to compete in those, and they love competing in Britain. If every country can do better then, we can definitely do better as well. But RIO 2016 was one of those where I personally, wasn’t expecting to have massive crowds because of everything that was in the media that we weren’t going to get anyone attending. I will be honest; I did feel down as it was my first Paralympics competing and that there wasn’t going to be anyone attending. But I still remember to this day going out to my first 100m and everyone was cheering I was blown away by it all. It was great to see, as we didn’t expect that at all after reading everything in the media that no one was going to be there. I want people to be there to feel inspired and excited as it’s such an incredible sport. I’ve not met one person where they’ve said I watched it but didn’t enjoy the Paralympics. But people love it and thrive on it. We just need to continue getting more people there.
What social barriers have you faced to achieve success? How did you overcome those barriers you’ve just spoken about?
The society barriers I faced was the fact I didn’t live in a very accessible world. I’m from the Scottish borders which is a very small place. I actually couldn’t get into my local bank, it was a listed building and they couldn’t put a ramp in, including other wheelchair facilities. It was strange for me to see as before my accident, I was a very independent child, my dad is a farmer, so he was there but, somewhere on the farm and my mum was a general manager at care homes. So, as a child it was often, I would go home from school and get myself organised for after school clubs I felt as if I was quite good at doing that. So suddenly to have had my accident I couldn’t be that independent me as I was before I couldn’t go to places by myself, that hurt me more than anything as my friends had started to find this new independence and doing things by themselves. It was little things such as not able to go to shops by myself that knocked me back to a place that I felt was the hardest, trying to accept that there were going to be places I couldn’t get into myself as it is very frustrating that I can’t do things by myself.
What advice would you give to young disabled people, who are maybe facing some difficult barriers in their life?
There are two things that I live by which is things can always be worse such as my accident whenever I spoke to someone about it they question how I am not dead or in a worse situation as I know I could be. That is a scary thought to have but, I’m extremely grateful for what I can do. The other thing would be don’t be scared to ask for help because I was as I lived such a stubborn life at the beginning of my rehabilitation as I didn’t want people to think less of me by asking for help. So, I would go round a supermarket and if I couldn’t reach something from the top shelve either I would grab something to try and knock it over or I just would choose to not have it. I would go to places, discover it wasn’t accessible and I will be like why shouldn’t I be able to have this opportunity to visit because of my disability. But I soon learnt to discover how to ask people for help. One of the good things was I went travelling around Australia with one of my good friends and there where some views point that I couldn’t access as they weren’t accessible due to a few chairs. But my friend carried me and asked someone to carry my chair down, but I felt so embarrassed about that. We got there my friend said to me that guy isn’t going to remember you for carrying your chair, there is no need to feel embarrassed. If anything, he will feel chuffed for helping you. I think sometimes as disabled people we are too scared to ask for help because we want to be independent but, we all need help at times and that’s okay. It’s ok to ask someone for help.
What do you think society and people can do more to understand that disabled people can achieve?
I think for able people it’s getting to understand that it is okay to ask disabled people if they do need help and if they say no to not feel offended by it. But, if you feel that you can offer a disabled person help with anything that’s okay to offer them help by saying is there anything I can do to make that easier. Also, I think some able-bodied people haven’t accepted that’s it’s okay to talk to someone with a disability as I sometimes will see people stare at me rather than asking if I’m okay or need help with anything or even have a general chat. I feel people are scared if they say the wrong thing and I think that’s because some disabled people a small number are really brutal but, we are not all like that.
Heading into the future, i.e. Tokyo how is preparation going for you?
The whole Covid situation has been a weird one, I live in Glasgow and when it first was shut down I needed to make sure Tokyo Paralympics at the time was still going ahead and I felt I needed to be located somewhere where I can train. So, I made the decision to move back to my family home farm as there was enough room to train in my gym and train on the roads which, in Glasgow, I was unable to do due to the lockdown. I needed to make my environment as normal as I could to prepare for Tokyo. But when we found out the Paralympics had been postponed until next year I wasn’t upset as I know there is a global pandemic with the Coronavirus were people were dying who had it and that’s horrific. I was just gutted as I trained really hard over the winter and I felt I was in the best physical shape of my life. It was just gutting that people couldn’t see that and I wasn’t going to get any races in to see what times I was achieving so it was a nervous time. As without racing or seeing the times you don’t know what needs to be changed. But, I’m luckier enough now where some races have been scheduled enabling me to race in them to ensure I’m on the right path. But I’m seeing this year as a chance to continue to get faster and stronger and mature as possible as I can.
We would like to thank Sammi for taking her time out of her busy training schedule to do this interview with the club. It's clear to see Sammi, hasn't let her disability stop her from achieving her dreams and we are certain a Paralympic medal is to come in Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. If you would like to follow Sammi's journey visit her website; www.sammikinghorn.com and giver her a follow on Twitter & Instagram.