For most sportspeople, winning eight Paralympic medals and picking up an MBE along the way would be enough to call time on a successful career, but Claire Cashmore is no ordinary athlete.
Over a year on from achieving a silver medal in the 100-metre breaststroke and an elusive gold in the 4×100-metre medley relay in Rio in 2016, the Redditch-born swimming star announced she was turning her attention to a whole new sport – triathlon.
Now, the four-time Paralympic veteran, who made her first Paralympic appearance in Athens in 2004, is hoping to achieve the impossible dream and reach a final games in Tokyo 2020.
But what inspired the Manchester resident, now training in Loughborough, to turn her back on swimming and take on triathlon?
“When I was a swimmer I felt like a zombie. Mentally it is tough following a black line,” said the 29-year-old.
“Two hours training in the morning, two and a half hours in the evening every day – mentally it is a tough sport.
“So, going into a sport where you can be out on the road and see so many beautiful little towns and villages, it is amazing.”
Adopted into the Paralympic programme in 2016, paratriathlon and triathlon continue to grow in Britain, partly thanks to the Olympic successes of Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.
For Cashmore, paratriathlon presents a welcome new challenge away from the daily pressure and mental challenges she encountered in the pool.
“In swimming I had a lot of pressure put on me, but I put a massive amount of pressure on myself,” said Redditch-born Cashmore.
“I had that silver medal for many years, and every time I went into a race I felt like I had to do that or better myself.
“I was always looking at ways I could be better and if I didn’t I would massively beat myself up, whereas in triathlon it has been so new. No-one is expecting anything from me, so you can go out there and actually enjoy it.
“You don’t have that same amount of pressure and it is just a completely different feeling when you race. When you stand on the start line, it feels a lot more fun in a sense.”
HEART AND LUNGS
Cashmore, who was born without a left forearm, first started swimming at the age of five, progressing to the Paralympics in Athens in 2004 where she returned with two bronze medals.
But after six more Paralympic medals and three world championship victories, starting from the bottom in a new sport brings massive new challenges.
“It has taken a little bit of a toll on my body,” said Cashmore.
“It has been a year of learning a lot about myself and how much I can actually cope with right now and then seeing how far I can progress it.
“Right now, my heart and lungs are capable, but I need to reign myself back a little bit before I get too excited.
“I have found cycling the toughest so far. I cycled as a kid, but it was on a mountain bike and we weren’t really going at much speed.
Got a disability? Always wanted to give triathlon a go? is for you! https://t.co/lwsoUGd4xG
— Claire Cashmore MBE (@ClaireCashmore) March 27, 2018
“Whereas now I am going on a road bike, wearing a prosthetic and controlling the bike with my one hand. You are going at some serious speed and then when you are trying to break you have only got both your breaks on the one side it has definitely been challenging.
“As you get older you get a bit more fearful, you are not quite as kamikaze, you realise that this is actually quite dangerous.
“I think confidence wise that has been my biggest weakness. But the more you do it, the more confident you get and the better you get at it.
“It has still only been just over a year now since I started cycling, so you have got to give yourself time.”
Unsurprisingly, Cashmore’s decision to switch from swimming to another sport has drawn comparisons to fellow Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey, the most successful British female Paralympian of all time, who famously picked up the bike after achieving 16 Paralympic medals in the pool.
Despite the similarities in their careers, Cashmore says she didn’t approach the Manchester-born cyclist for advice before adopting triathlon.
“Sarah and I do chat a lot, but I didn’t really talk to her at all about my triathlon transition.
“It was only really family and my boyfriend, who is actually a triathlete, so he was the best one for me to speak to about the transition.
“I think swimming is the most technical of the three disciplines, it is the hardest one to pick up as you get older.
“Whereas in cycling the rule generally is that the amount of time you spend in the saddle, the better you are and running you can learn. So that’s why it is easier for swimmers to transition to other sports.”
Since becoming a triathlete, Cashmore has seen positive results, winning the Altafulla ITU Paratriathlon World Cup last July and finishing sixth in the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam.
But the University of Leeds graduate admits she still faces an upwards battle if she wants to achieve her dream and reach a fifth Paralympics.
“I said after London I would retire and then after Rio I said that would be it, but to go to Tokyo would be a dream.
“Right now, it is quite a far-fetched dream, in terms of my development, but it is not an impossible dream and it is one that I am definitely aiming for.”
With the Paralympics just over two years away, Cashmore undoubtedly has an almighty challenge ahead. But with her attitude, determination and will to succeed, Cashmore is the ideal candidate to make the impossible possible.
A very powerful session with @ManComAcademy students. Pupils are improving their mental wellbeing through sport. #GetTheInsideOut @YouthSportTrust #ActiveinMind #Wellbeing #Mentalhealth #dontjudgeme #mcrhealthyschool #let’stalkaboutit pic.twitter.com/wdLEQxJOj0
— Claire Cashmore MBE (@ClaireCashmore) March 27, 2018
Image courtesy of BUCS via YouTube, with thanks.