Prolifically-decorated Dame Sarah Storey will star on our screens this Sunday as the UK’s most successful Paralympian competes against Tom Daley, Tyson Fury, Emma Raducanu, Raheem Sterling and Adam Peaty. Voting will open during the awards ceremony on Sunday 19th December, and the winner will be presented during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show live on BBC One.
Inspirational Dame Sarah Storey became ‘Britain’s Greatest Ever Paralympian’ this year after winning three more Gold medals in Tokyo. And what a story she has to tell… Told by a swimming teacher that she had started training too late (at the age of ten) to be “good at anything”, an all-the-more-determined Sarah continued to train as a swimmer and went on to compete in the Barcelona Paralympics, clinching two Gold medals, three Silvers and a Bronze at the age of just 14.
Despite being born without a functioning left hand, she has won a whopping 17 Gold medals. Dame Sarah is living proof that with hard work, the right attitude and dogged determination we can achieve anything… an essential message for children to understand in order to overcome any hardships in life and attain our goals. Passionate about highlighting the importance of early years’ education for child development, she’s partnered with award-winning Fennies Nurseries, which boasts numerous nurseries in Surrey and SW London, including Wimbledon.
Our Celebrity Journalist Angela Sara West @angela_sara_west chats exclusively with awe-inspiring world-record breaker Dame Sarah ahead of the televised awards about her career highlights, what drives her, her partnership with Fennies, getting creative with her kids for Christmas, and her top tips to get fighting fit!
You’re a true inspiration in the face of adversity – when did you first discover your passion for sport?
When I was a child, my parents were always outdoorsy. They were leaders of a Scout group, so we were always out doing activities. I first remember watching the Olympic Games, because I didn’t know about the Paralympics in 1984, and it was Sarah Hardcastle at those Games that made me want to be an athlete myself. I worked out I’d be near her age at the next 1992 Olympic Games, so that became my target.
You’ve been a champion across two sports, have retained titles after having children, broken records repeatedly, and have stayed on top of podium for over three decades! Your sporting achievements are phenomenal…. What have been the main highlights of your incredible career?
Winning Gold on my debut in Barcelona at 14, winning double Gold and holding two world records. The nurturing nature of the athletes that were on our team, plus the ongoing support they provided, made the whole experience magical. Being able to compete and successfully defend my titles in Atlanta just after my A-level results. Going on to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. And when I switched to cycling and won Gold on the same day as my husband, Barney Storey, in Beijing!
How did it feel to receive your MBE and OBE and to then be appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) following the 2012 London Games?
It was an unbelievable surprise! I’d just turned 19 and had not expected it at all… I was completely overwhelmed. Barney and I received my OBE and his MBE on the same day in 2009… and it was really incredible because you could have three guests each, so we had a bit of a party! I received my damehood when I was 8 months pregnant with Louisa, and Prince Charles and I had a chat about it as the Duchess of Cambridge was also pregnant with George at the time!
How does it feel to have been shortlisted for the coveted Sports Personality of the Year award?
I’m honoured to be on there – it’s almost as if I’m the nomination representing all of parasport and also all of cycling, so to be the person who is representing those incredibly-successful groups of people is obviously a huge honour, and I’m incredibly humbled to have been singled out. It’s been an amazing year for parasports – we’ve had some incredible results and I really hope that the wheelchair rugby team, who won Gold in Japan, win. There are just so many other athletes that could have been on this list, and I think it could have probably been a 20 for 2020 list!
I’m trying not to worry about the fact that Tyson Fury was born when I went to my first Games in 1992, but one of the exciting things about being the oldest and #doingitfortheover40s is that by carrying on to Paris we are breaking new ground and learning more about the physiology of older athletes and how to maximise the psychological benefits of being more experienced whilst trying to defy the ageing process!
Well, we’re all rooting for you and wish you the best of luck for Sunday! Tell me a little about your collaboration with the award-winning nursery group, Fennies, championing the opportunities they make available to children…
It’s a wonderful one, I’m so thrilled to be working with them! As a mum of two, I am passionate about the opportunities available to young people, and the Fennies ethos really resonates with what is important to me as a parent. I’ve always had a keen interest in the development of children, and I know the early years stage is so crucial in being able to set them up for school. It’s been amazing to see the work they do and facilities they have. It’s been great to emphasise the importance of not only the first 1000 days of a child’s life, but also introducing them to a life of love and learning and teaching them to be explorers. Hopefully, we can reach more families and support them with the time they’re spending with their kids in childcare.
Fennies offer the highest quality of care and education, their educational practice delivered through an enhanced Early Years programme with a contemporary approach. All their nurseries are rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted and you’ve seen first hand how they’ve been meticulously designed with bright open spaces, within the highest standard of facilities and with free-flow access to bespoke outdoor play areas…
I’ve visited the Eltham nursery, where toddlers have access to a custom-designed garden for outdoor play, as well as an enhanced approach to the early years curriculum, which includes well-being activities, PE, a STEM programme, focused art sessions, language lessons taught by linguistics coaches and yoga sessions. I’m so delighted to have partnered with Fennies to be able to share more about their Early Years facilities!
What are your family plans for Christmas this year?
They’re looking the same as every year. We generally always have it with my parents, who live next door. We see them all the time, which is amazing for the kids. I always grew up with my grandparents in my life, so it’s great that the kids get to do the same. My first training camp starts on Boxing Day, so we will be heading to that, hoping to get some good miles in my legs ready for the start of the school term. I think my perfect Christmas Day is chilling with family and going for a walk. Not having any pressing commitments and watching the kids enjoy it is what it’s all about…
Do your kids help to choose the tree and put up the decs?
Yes, we walk up to our local farm every year and pick up the tree, usually at the first possible occasion as the kids are so excited! This year we got it on the 27th November and we put it up straight away, as the first Sunday of advent was actually in November this year. Good thing we did, as we suffered from a power cut after! We have various decorations that the kids have made that they hang on the tree, too. We also have another in the kitchen and one in the hall, and we decorate the front of the house with lights, so it always feels super festive at ours!
Sport and fitness can help enormously with not only physical, but mental health, too. What are your top tips for those struggling with their mental health during these difficult times?
Do something constructive like getting out for regular walks, prioritising getting out every day. When you work from home, that becomes a challenge. Prioritising being disciplined, getting out before breakfast, or immediately after your first two calls of the day and getting regular breaks to clear your head. Walking meetings are great… give yourself the opportunity to go outside and be with nature. If you live in an urban environment, make sure you find your local park or green space, and if you don’t have one, then work with your local council to make sure you get one, as it’s so important during the pandemic. Local groups are great for online classes such as cycling, where you can hire bikes with access for disabled people, too.
You’re a patron for various charities…
That’s right. Most recently, in 2019, I became patron of the charity ‘What About The Children’, and they’re really important because they’re working to focus the attention on the first 1000 days of a child’s life, and are very keen to work with the Duchess of Cambridge and her Royal foundation. It’s important that we stand up for children who don’t have a voice of their own – they are often forgotten. I’m also a patron of ‘The Human Milk Bank’ in Chester, which needs donors all the time. People who are breastfeeding their own children up to the age of nine months can also donate alongside. That was a really important thing for me, and I did donate.
I also work with Children’s Venture Farm Trust, which is the children’s charity in Cheshire, and they provide holidays and care for the disabled, disadvantaged and children who are really living in difficult situations. They also provide Christmas parties and Christmas holidays for children, and they’ve been operating in an amazing way throughout the pandemic. Boot Out Breast Cancer is my other patronage. My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, just before I went to the Games in Athens. After a mastectomy, she had treatment following the Games and it was a really turbulent time, you know, having to hear someone say they’ve had a cancer diagnosis. So, when I had the opportunity to work with Debbie Dowie I couldn’t say no. We have a cycling club to promote the charity, and we really try to promote the importance of getting yourself checked out, and we raise money for the diagnostic equipment that NHS hospitals need.
What would be your Christmas / New Year message of hope to readers, following such turbulent times with the pandemic?
I think, focusing on your own health and happiness is very important. The biggest armour we have against this virus is to stay fit and healthy, so by focusing on that we can do something for ourselves. Whether it’s getting out for more walks or taking up a new sporting activity or prioritising healthy eating, we can all do something to help ourselves. Physical activity and mental strength are very strongly linked.
What’s next for Dame Sarah Storey? Any exciting plans for 2022?
I’m hoping that we will have the Track World championships, but it hasn’t been finalised as far as I’m aware… The World Championships in Canada can also hopefully go ahead, subject to all travel restrictions and things not getting in the way, and I hope to be able to defend the five world titles that I currently hold… So, that’s really the main aim for 2022. I’d also like to go on holiday, as I haven’t had the chance yet because there’s been just such an amazing response to the Games in Japan, and to be able to meet people finally after all the restrictions we had before we left will be great. I’ve had so many opportunities and it’s been amazing to go to events like the Pride of Britain awards, and to be involved with children in need and to visit different award ceremonies and to be a part of the parallel club and British Paralympic Association. I’m very excited for more great opportunities to come!
Voting will open during the awards ceremony on Sunday 19th December and the winner will be presented during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show, live on BBC One.
Follow Dame Sarah: @damesarahstorey
Fennies Nurseries: @fenniesnurseries
© Angela Sara West 2021 @angela_sara_west