Lauren Steadman successfully transitioned from being a top-level paralympic swimmer to an equally-respected triathlete. We spoke to Lauren at the Rising Stars photoshoot to discuss how she’s finding the switch in discipline, why she chose to compete in high level sport and her life outside of competing.
What made you switch from swimming to triathlon?
I’ve been a swimmer in two paralympic games, but I’ve always been an all-rounder as a kid and been wanting to do the triathlon for quite a few years. My Uncle was quite a keen triathlete, and visiting him one weekend I just decided to take part in one he was doing. He pushed me to take part in the national triathlon Championships, and I came second against the girls I still race today. I borrowed the wetsuit, shoes and bike! I was asked to take part in the triathlon after that, but it was only a year before London 2012 so I wanted to concentrate on my swimming.
After the Paralympics in 2012 I was invited to the Triathlon World Championships in London, so I headed there to do some specific running and cycling training, and since then I haven’t looked back.
Swimming is such a huge part of triathlon I still feel part swimmer, but for now I’ve got no intention of going back.
Who, and what, inspired you to compete in the triathlon?
My family have always been supportive, and my Uncle doing them was a huge help. Being at quite a high level of fitness from swimming meant the transition wasn’t too hard, but the big catalyst was that the triathlon will debut at the Olympics this year. This gives you a big goal to aim for.
How often do you practice your transitions?
It’s the fourth discipline in a triathlon. It’s hard enough with all the rules about kit being in a particular box, but it can be harder for a disabled athlete as we often have to take off or put on a prosthesis. I used to struggle with my bike helmet, but my sponsors have devised a magnetic clip to help with that, and now I’ve developed a technique for putting on my shoes. An extra 15 seconds trying to get something on can mean someone crossing the line in front of you. I only use a prosthesis for being on the bike, for a bit of balance and stability, but otherwise I don’t use one.
What advice would you give to any aspiring young elite athlete?
Do it because you want to, not your parents. You have to enjoy it, or you won’t succeed, so someone else telling you to do it won’t work. You won’t notice the hours and the time you put in, so it’ll make all the hard work that much easier. I see a lot of kids turning up for training and not wanting to be there, and I always wonder why they choose to go. My parents have always been supportive if I’m doing sport or not, whichever way I’ll always be Lauren. It’s time consuming, and expensive, so I’ve always appreciated the time and money they put into it.
What do you enjoy the most about competing in big events, such as London 2012?
Wearing your flag is incredible. There’s no higher honour in sport than representing your country, and if I can bring back a gold medal I know I’ve done the best I can do. Everything you train for is reflected in the big events. The noise is something you learn to deal with, and get in the zone to block it out, but you couldn’t help but embrace the atmosphere at London. When my name was announced before my event, 17,000 people roared. Nothing can prepare you for that. It was surreal, but it was so quiet when the gun went off I could concentrate on the race entirely. On the last leg of my race I could hear the crowd, even under water, which gave me huge inspiration to go even faster.
How have you balanced studying for a degree in psychology and training?
If I don’t have stress in my life, things seem wrong. I could have been a full time athlete, but I wanted something else outside of the training and competitions to focus on. My University have been really supportive, giving me extensions and moving exams where needed. You need to get your time management right, but it’s a nice distraction to have. I have to do the best I can at everything, so if I didn’t get a first at University or win a competition I’d be disappointed. Everybody loves a challenge, and doing a degree and being an athlete is a huge challenge.
What do you do to relax outside of competing?
I love to bake, walk the dogs, relax with friends and head to the beach. I dance a lot of salsa, which isn’t exactly relaxing, but it’s completely different to spending hours on a bike in a soggy wetsuit! I’d be tempted to enter a salsa competition at some point, but for now I’m just doing it for the sheer enjoyment!
Do you get nervous before a race?
I used to, when I first started swimming, but now I’m so relaxed on the start line I’m dancing! I know what to expect from my training and competing throughout the year, so as long as I’m giving it my best I’m perfectly relaxed.
How has the Paralympics evolved since you began competing?
I started when I was 11, but seeing the profile jump from Bejing to London in coverage alone has been incredible. The stadiums in Bejing were half empty, which was disappointing, but my parents came out to cheer me on. London was completely different, and I think Channel 4 did a great job of covering every event and explaining how each discipline worked. When I went to schools after Bejing the kids were only really interested in how I lost my hand, but after London they were far more interested in the sport, how I got into it and how it felt to compete. The coverage of London 2012 helped to show how disabled athletes work just as hard as the able-bodied.
What do you think the lasting legacy of Oscar Pistorious will be in paralympic sport, and sport in general, after the recent controversy over his personal life?
He will always be strongly associated with raising the profile of paralympic sport, nothing can change that. Going to the Olympics and challenging people with all their limbs was incredible, but he certainly won’t be the last to do it. If I ever get the chance to race someone able-bodied of Olympic standard in the pool, I’d gladly take it. He moved things forward, but every record broken is broken again at some point.
After competing, successfully, in three different disciplines, are there any other sports you haven’t competed in that you’d like to try?
I love sport as a whole, and it’s a great escape for me. I wouldn’t like to switch discipline now, I think the triathlon is perfect for me, but I would like to try a Winter triathlon at some point. I believe, if you’re an athlete, you can be trained in anything as you have the drive and the discipline to succeed. In saying that the Winter triathlon is quite a drastic change!
What are you most looking forward to at Rio?
The atmosphere, the place itself. It’s an incredible place. I’m going into these games in a very different position to London 2102, competing in a new event, so I’m looking forward to seeing if I can achieve all that I set out to do.
Do you think it helps or hinders you being the favourite going into your event?
I’d say there’s quite a few of us competing for gold, but I don’t compete for anything other reason than being the best I can be. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m the favourite, or people think I’m going to come second, third or fourth. My preparation is the same.
What are your goals for Rio and the remainder of 2016?
The main goal for Rio is to bring home the gold. I’m getting stronger, and have great form going in, but you never know what’s going to happen in sport. It’s one of the great things about it. Bringing home a medal would be incredible, and after Rio I’ll enjoy the rest of the games, relax for a bit then get back into the routine training for the next Olympics. My life moves in four year cycles!
Football or Rugby?
Burger or Hotdog?
City or Country?
Chinese or Indian?
Beer or wine?
On the track or off-road?
Big night out or quiet night in?
Quiet night in. I only go out to dance Salsa now!