the UCI’s Para-cycling History
Sarah Storey is currently one of the most prominent figures in the world of para-cycling. However, her career as a Paralympian began as a swimmer at age 14.
Starting with the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992, she has so far been in four Paralympic Games, winning five Gold, eight Silver and three Bronze medals. In 2005, when an ear infection kept her from swimming, she started cycling to keep fit but was so good at it that she won three titles that same year in the Para-cycling European Championships. Sarah’s destiny was changed when she met, at a training camp prior to the Athens Paralympics, a sighted pilot in tandem track cycling named Barney Storey. Sarah, who had begun cycling at age 27, was considered a “bit too old” to receive support under an official talent search and development program. She said that she was able to boost her skills at an incredibly high speed because of the support she received from Barney, who later became her coach and husband.
The year Sarah entered her first para-cycling world championship (2006 IPC Cycling World Championships) was also the year that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) first ran a para-cycling championship (under the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) name). This was before the international management of para-cycling shifted officially from the IPC to the UCI. The period of dramatic change, in which a governing body for able-bodied international competitive cycling began handling para-cycling as a category like, for example, “mountain bike”—boosting competitiveness of the para-sport and making it a serious elite sport rather than a sport for athletes with impairments—coincided with the early days of Sarah’s career as a cyclist.
Sarah is highly creative, with an open personality. She has created opportunities to work jointly with her husband and comrade, Barney, and the people cheering her on. She has creatively carved her own future and is involved in activities beyond the context of sports for athletes with impairments.
Ever since the 2006 IPC Cycling World Championships and to the present, Sarah has achieved numerous victories in different track and road events. With the exception of 2013 when she took a short break to give birth, she has continued to don the maillot arc-en-ciel (rainbow jersey), worn by reigning world champions. Sarah also competes in able-bodied cycling, winning the individual pursuit at the British Cycling National Track Championships in 2008 and defending the title in 2009. She also won a Gold in the 2011 UCI Track Cycling World Cup Cali, Columbia, in team pursuit. She aimed to represent Great Britain in both the 2012 London Olympics and London Paralympics but was unfortunately not chosen to be part of the London Olympics squad.
In 2013, Sarah gave birth to her daughter. It was only eight months later in April 2014 that she came in third in the 500 m time trial and won the women’s 3 km pursuit in the C5 category at the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Mexico. The photo of Sarah, smiling and holding her baby daughter while wearing a medal around her neck (third photo), dispelled the concerns of others, leaving a strong impression that she had no intention of giving up her top position as a cyclist using her childbirth and childrearing as an excuse.
In February 2015, she made a challenge for the UCI Hour Record in the popular British winter track event—the Revolution Series. Although she fell 563 meters short of the women’s UCI Hour Record (able-bodied) in the distance cycled around a track in one hour, she did set a new British record to the excitement of the spectators at the track.
Today, Sarah is not only an athlete on the Paralympics Great Britain (GB) team, she also takes part in able-bodied races as captain of Podium Ambition Pro Cycling powered by Club La Santa, a women’s team she manages with Barney.
Sarah and her husband wanted to form the women’s pro cycling team and cycling club to open up a pathway for women in professional cycling as well as create more opportunities that would enable para-cyclists to race alongside women. It started out as an amateur team composed of skilled domestic cyclists and is now in its third year. According to Sarah, “It has been the most successful team in Great Britain to date.” It is also being used by Sarah to prepare her for the Rio Paralympics.
Creates Her Own Environment
for Staying at the Top in the World
Great Britain is among the best in the world in terms of the level of its cycling athletes. British Cycling, the governing body of cycle sport in the UK, has a large number of strong cyclists. What this also means is that if racers and coaches do not achieve satisfactory results, they are relentlessly dropped and exchanged. Sarah is not a strong racer because she is in a favorable environment like Great Britain. In fact, she has made many efforts to achieve her strength, including creating an environment that is suitable for the sport.
Great Britain has adopted scientific approaches, such as the analysis of power meter data, from early on. This is true not only for the sport of able-bodied cycling but also para-cycling. In fact, Sarah herself has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science from Leeds Metropolitan University and has acquired the knowledge required to serve as a coach.
Sarah, who studied sports at university, said she has always been interested in the science behind sports performance. She has also nurtured other different skills by taking short-term courses on coaching and other topics or by having her own team. They include skills in business management, management of behind-the-lines support and marketing. She said, “University taught me about different research. While many athletes relinquish their pursuit of academics, I am happy that this was not the case for me.”
In regards to her own training, Sarah currently trains with her own coach’s team and not with British Cycling. This is because the staff members at British Cycling change frequently, and she wanted the best environment for herself. She is receiving the support of sports science advisors who are independent of British Cycling, including Dr. Gary Brickley of the University of Brighton, her husband Barney and Manchester Metropolitan University.。
Has Secured Good Quality
Support in Great Amounts
for Both Her Cycling and Her Family
The ability to get those around him/herself on his/her side is an indispensable talent for an athlete. But it is not just her coach but also Sarah’s parents who cannot be forgotten as her biggest supporters in life.
Sarah’s mother has been at every World Championship race since 2006 rooting for her daughter, whether from the stands or on the roadside in Switzerland, Italy, Mexico and elsewhere in the world, always waving a quilted rooting pennant and a handmade doll wearing a Union Jack outfit (incidentally, that doll’s left hand, like Sarah’s, has no fingers. After Sarah married Barney, the doll got a wedding ring embroidered on her right ring finger). The cheering squad now includes Barney’s parents and, more recently, Sarah’s daughter Louisa, waving a flag that says “Go, Go, Mummy!”
Barney, who comes to cheer for his wife with a big smile on his face and Louisa riding on his shoulders, has several distinguished achievements of his own. At the London Paralympics, he rode tandem with Neil Fachie as sighted-pilot, and together, they won the Gold medal in the Men’s B 1 km Time Trial, marking a new world record. He was an athlete in his own right, who took the world by storm as a sighted pilot. The sight of photographers swarming around Barney and Sarah—both wearing a Gold medal around their necks—as he gave her a kiss for her win is still fresh in our minds.
Barney is currently the coach for the Podium Ambition, a personal coach for Sarah and Barney’s team—Team Storey Sport—as well as a motivational speaker. He is, of course, also busy as Louisa’s father and Sarah’s husband. After Sarah resumed racing in 2014, the sight of Barney with a big daypack on his back and Louisa in a baby sling, or Louisa with her grandparents at the various venues, eases the atmosphere and always has the other athletes asking if they can have photos taken with them.
Sarah said, “I think I am very fortunate. I have been able to meet people who supported me or gave me special assistance when I converted from swimming to cycling. My parents have always been my biggest supporters, and now Barney and Louisa have joined that team. I am really a very lucky lady!”
We asked Sarah, who is one of the pioneers as an athlete who is also a mother, for her advice to other women who may follow in her footsteps.
According to Sarah, training during pregnancy is doable so long as the expectant mother listens very carefully to her body, places emphasis on heeding advice for avoiding dehydration, does not allow herself to become overly tired and keeps her heartrate to within her aerobic threshold (the maximum heartrate that enables running without producing lactic acid). After giving birth, the new mother should again listen carefully to her body. She also needs to wait patiently until her health slowly returns to a normal state.
Sarah had nothing to read as reference, so she carried out her training with the guidance of the team doctor and coaching team, and while following her own instincts. She said, in regards to training, “It’s not easy, but it’s important that you don’t overdo things.”
Sarah maintained good health through her pregnancy, but the pregnancy ended in birth by caesarian section. It prolonged her recovery, and she had to mind herself carefully. However, she said that she did not feel herself under pressure. “I think I was able to accept things naturally because I had been an athlete for so long.”
For Sarah, it was very important that she breastfed Louisa. Another was that she did no prioritize training over her daughter. As for her advice to other athletes who want to start a family, Sarah thinks that there is a need to secure a massive amount of support for both one’s sports career and one’s family. Babies will not follow the mother’s training schedule in expressing their needs, but the mother-athlete also needs to train. The support makes it possible for the mother to find a new way to do everything while meeting the baby’s needs.
As for points related to training and support for women athletes, Sarah said, “We need to continue to work on not only strengths but also weaknesses so that the weakness can be changed into a strength.” This is the way Sarah has always been doing things—first, as a swimmer, and now, as a cyclist.
Sarah turns 38 this September. She has been paving a variety of her own courses, and will now be participating in her seventh Paralympic Games. If and when Sarah hugs her daughter in Rio with a medal around her neck, the future of women athletes will be certain to change a little more again.
text&photos by Yuko Sato