By Lucy Roberts 

The Volvo World Paratriathlon Series is taking place this weekend and frenemy para-triathletes Claire Cashmore and Lauren Steadman will both be taking part and competing against each other.

Claire Cashmore

Claire Cashmore

Having known each other since they were teenagers, Cashmore and Steadman bonded over their desire to focus on swimming and they still continue to do the same, but now the focus in on triathlon.

Cashmore wanted a change from swimming, as Steadman did a few years previous, and she followed her friend’s footsteps by going into paratriathlon and the Tokyo Paralympics will be the first Games in which she takes part in her new sport.

The Volvo Ambassador revealed why she made the switch from swimming to paratriathlon, explained her views on sustainability and what the Recycled Roads campaign which she’s involved in is and how she feels about spectators not being able to watch her in person in Japan this summer.

Q) Was making the switch from doing swimming to then doing paratriathlon a difficult decision to make?

A) I suppose you’d probably say craziness to be honest going from one sport to adding two and from a pool into open water. But I suppose I’d been competitively swimming since I was sixteen and I’d been in the sport for 12 years competitively and I’d been doing it a lot longer than that. It got to the point where I was like right, I just want a bit of a change, I want to freshen things up. Triathlon had always been on my radar, it’d always been one that I wanted to do, particularly as a kid, I used to run, I was part of an athletics club, so I used to run quite a lot before I really focussed on swimming. It was always something I wanted to do and then it had it’s debut in 2016 in Rio as part of the Paralympic Games, so I thought this is the perfect time to actually move over and give it a go. It was a massive, massive step out of my comfort zone, huge, huge change, learning a lot about myself and learning a lot of skills in a short amount of time, especially going from the top of your game in one sport to suddenly you’re essentially at the bottom, you’ve got to try and work your way up to the top. It can be quite challenging but it’s a massive learning curve personally and in the sport. Definitely the best decision I’ve made, I absolutely love it.

Q) How does it feel to finally be able to take part in events again, notably the 2021 Paralympics and the upcoming World Paratriathlon Series?

A) It’s just incredible, I can’t wait to be able to race again. I’m very much a racer, I train to race. A lot of people love training, do all that and they’re not so bothered about the racing side of things but for me the racing is the reason I train, it’s what keep me going. At times it’s been quite hard not having an end goal in sight, So, to have the Volvo World Series Para Race is so exciting, I can’t wait to get out there and almost see all the hard work I’ve put in over the last year and a bit of just constant training, to see that come to light. And then obviously Tokyo, we’ve waited an extra year so it’s going to be even more special when it finally comes around.

Q) Because of current events around the world, does the Tokyo Paralympics feel different and more special to you in comparison to Beijing, London and Rio?

A) I think it will be completely different, I suppose every Paralympics I’ve been to have been so different anyway, so they’re all unique and special in their own way but then when we’re had an extra year, and everybody’s had completely different training and what they’ve been able to access and not access and stuff like that so I think everybody is going to be so grateful to be there. It’s really made me appreciate little things a lot more and just how lucky we are to be able to go and swim in a pool and go into a gym and all those little things that we took for granted before and I think knowing that we’ve had that extra year and I feel like it’s going to be a huge, huge celebration of the pretty rubbish however many months its been for everybody and I think it’s just going to bring everybody together and to see how people have coped with this past year.

Q) How do you feel about overseas spectators, and maybe even Japanese fans not being allowed to watch the Games in person?

A) One thing about the Paralympics is generally I have a good contingency of people coming along to watch, so my parents, my sisters, a few friends often come and quite a few of them were planning to come, so that’s really sad because obviously when you cross the finish line or touch the scoreboard in the pool, the first thing I would do is look up into the crowd and find my family. Because they have been a huge part of my journey too, yes, it’s an individual sport but there’s a huge team around that has got me to this point and helped me through those tough times so it’s really sad that I won’t be able to share it with them. But at the end of the day, the crowd is the icing on the cake and unfortunately that’s not going to be there but I’m still going to make sure I do everything within my control to deliver the best race and hopefully they’ll all be watching back at home in the middle of the night or whatever it will be.

Q) How much progress has sport made in inclusivity over the past 10/15 years and what more needs to be done to improve?

A) I think it’s been massive particularly in terms of London, London Paralympics was a real game changer in the sense that before that I think we were maybe seen as athletes with a disability that were taking part in sport. Whereas now we’re seeing elite athletes that just happen to have a disability and that shift in people’s perceptions has been really hugely positive and I think it’s just made people much more aware that actually we can cater for people’s disability and I think more awareness around, when I was swimming I was in an able bodied club and I was just chucked in and carried on and did everything that they did because I didn’t need things to be adapted and that is brilliant that can happen. People are training with able bodies athletes alongside them and they can see how hard we’re working at the same time. I think what probably needs to improve is still the lack of coverage. I suppose we need more exposure of people with disability but not even just disability, we need difference, we need race, we need gender, we need all sorts of things so there’s more role models out there so people can speak to somebody that’s like them in the media and in sport and think, okay if they can do it, so can I. Whereas unfortunately that often only comes every four years. Brands are starting to get involved a bit more and Volvo is a prime example. The fact that they are passionate about raising the profile of para sport and they’ve shown this by their commitment to investing in the Para Series in Leeds and we need more brands like that to want to do that so there are more role models but anybody that has any kind of difference and doesn’t see anybody like themselves within sport or within media. I remember when I was getting involved in sport, I didn’t even know about disability sport, I didn’t know that I could be part of the Paralympics because there was no coverage and there was no signposting of where to go, whereas I feel like that is getting much clearer for people that want to join a disability club. I suppose the one thing that I’m conscious of here and I’m talking about elite sport but also getting people involved in sports for health benefits as well. Not everybody wants to become a Paralympian, not everybody wants to do it at an elite level, so it’s the facilities and events around the country that can make it as inclusive and as enjoyable as possible for anybody with a disability and I think that has hugely changed and particularly I’ve seen it in triathlon, I’ve gone to quite a few local races and my boyfriend who is visually impaired is riding on a tandem and the organisers to make sure that the experience is just as good for us as it is for anybody else. That is massive progress and that’s what we need to see more of, just people welcoming with open arms whatever your needs are and trying to make it suitable for you so that you can get involved and limits aren’t being put on you and there aren’t any barriers that make it not accessible. It can make people want to come back and do it again.

Q) How important is it to you that triathlon is the most gender equal sport in the world?

A) It’s massive, I do quite a lot of mentoring in schools and it’s amazing how many girls come up to me and they’re self-conscious and they don’t want to do sport because they don’t think it’s cool, they don’t want to get muscley, they don’t want to get sweaty, they think that their peers will look at them in a different way. So, I think the triathlon has so many incredible women that are just so powerful and so inspiring and just absolutely bossing it. Getting paid equal amounts to the men, getting an equal amount of coverage to the men is really inspiring and I think we’re a step forward from a lot of other sports. The fact that we’re world leading in that sense and hopefully that will just mean that more and more girls will want to get involved. I think it’s really, really brilliant and a massive positive step forward.

Q) How do you manage to have such a great friendship with Lauren Steadman despite competing against each other?

A) It’s funny actually because Lauren and I have known each other since she was about 13 and I was probably 16/17 – that’s quite a long time. I basically went to a school called Kelly College for my swimming and Lauren found out about that and she ended up coming there as well. At that stage I was the older, more experienced person within swimming and it’s almost like the roles have reversed now and she is the more experienced in triathlon and I’ve gone in to join her world. Hopefully she learnt a lot from me in the swimming world and it’s almost like, right now I’m going to learn from you and you’re going to give me the tricks within the trade of triathlon. I just think it’s been so great; we’ve battled against each other for however many years in the pool and in triathlon and still being able to. On that start line you are rivals and you do want to beat each other but you do want to help as well. Behind the scenes away from the race you can still be friends and you can still have a great laugh and help each other out as teammates and I think that is really, really important. It’s just funny how our worlds have come together again after so many years of knowing each other. It’s crazy.

Q) You and Lauren share the same views and values surrounding sustainability, so how important is that for you and why did you want to get involved in the Recycled Roads campaign?

A) Sustainability is obviously something which is very important to me. I think as I’ve got older, I’ve become more and more aware of the damage that we are doing to our beautiful planet and how we have such a huge impact as human beings. Particularly doing a sport like triathlon which is predominantly outside in the natural beauty. I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren and future generations to be able to enjoy the world as much as I have, and I think we can all play a little part in that. I think it’s quite easy to be like, well it’s not down to us, we can’t change anything because we’re a small fish in a big pond, but I feel like if every single one of us did something small to make a change that adds up to a huge, huge thing. I just hope that more and more people start to live in a more sustainable way and look at what they can do. That’s why for me it was a massive honour when Volvo wanted to partner with me because I know that’s a big passion of theirs – sustainability and thinking about the environment so it’s great that our values did align in that sense. The Recycled Roads campaign is just an incredible way of combining both safety on the roads and the sustainability aspect. By using cars that would have gone to landfill, end of life cars that would have gone to landfill, using plastic, to resurface the roads, you just think how has this not been done before? It’s so genius in a sense and I suppose also the fact that it will make it a much more enjoyable experience for cyclists, road users and for pedestrians, for anybody that is using those roads because it is one of the worst things when you’re cycling along a road with potholes everywhere. It’s dangerous, it can cause so many accidents for both cars and cyclists, punctures, all these things that often take you completely by surprise because it’ll be on a corner when you don’t see it, on a road you don’t know. So, the fact that Volvo are partnering with MacRebur to resurface roads and make it a much more enjoyable experience for everyone I think is really great. For me I used to wear a prosthetic and when you go over a pothole, the reverberation through the road would come up through the carbon fibre and into my stump and it’s basically just two bones at the end of my arm and just the pain I’d feel would be like oh my gosh this is horrific. And that’s where particularly in this country, our roads are awful because of the weather conditions I suppose are so bad. So, to do something like this which is much more sustainable I think the longevity of it is much better. I just want them to come down and do the whole of where I train in Loughborough because it would make my life amazing.

The World Triathlon Para Series Leeds is sponsored by Volvo and is taking place on June 5 and 6.

RELATED: Lauren Steadman discusses the World Paratriathlon Series, Strictly and her frenemy Claire Cashmore

Para-triathletes and Volvo Ambassadors Lauren Steadman and Claire Cashmore are great friends and have been since they met at boarding school, but once the gun goes off for their events, they’ll be competing against each other. Steadman used to compete in para swimming before making the decision to change to paratriathlon for the 2016 Rio Paralympics where she won a silver medal. The youngest half of the frenemy partnership spoke about why lockdown positively impacted her, how she manages to maintain such a good friendship with Cashmore and revealed why she decided to take part in Strictly Come Dancing and SAS: Who Dares Wins...