“Before I got into swimming as a youngster I actually hated it,” Paralympic swimming champion Claire Cashmore reveals to the Women’s Sports Alliance. “I was absolutely petrified of the water!”
Claire Cashmore in action for British Trialthon - credit KSport Media
She is one of Britain’s most decorated Paralympic athletes who made her mark on nation's sporting history as a swimmer, by collecting eight medals across four Games between Athens 2004 and Rio 2016.
Claire then switched sports and took up triathlon for Tokyo 2020, finishing third in Japan.
The now 35-year-old feels her best is still to come though and proved her podium potential with an impressive silver – finishing ahead of the reigning Paralympic champion Lauren Steadman – at the World Triathlon Para Series event in Swansea, in mid-July.
Claire spent her early years living in Dubai and with swimming very much an essential life skill she did – albeit reluctantly – eventually take the plunge into the sport.
Born without a lower left arm she was initially very aware of how different she looked to other children, but swimming helped her overcome these emotional struggles.
“I soon realised the freedom I felt in the water and absolutely loved it, but sports actually changed my life as well,” she tells the WSA.
“I was very self-conscious about my arm and very self-conscious of the fact that I was different, but being in a swim costume meant you couldn't hide.
“Being good at something also gave me that confidence I needed at that point in my life and I definitely think it's it shaped me into the confident person I am today.”
Claire Cashmore at the Rio 2016 Paralympics - credit @ParalympicsGB
In addition to excelling in the sporting scene Claire has spoken openly about the power of the athlete voice.
She made headlines after pushing the #NotAWitch campaign which followed a backlash from people with disabilities to elements of 'the Witches’ movie in 2020.
The swimmer turned triathlete also added ‘published author’ to her many accomplishments by launching the book ‘Splash’ - which tells the story of her young life growing up with an impairment, but not letting it hold her back.
“I think as an athlete using your voice is really important, particularly in areas that you're passionate about,” she insists.
“For me that would be around disability, women's sport, encouraging more people to get involved in sport and to normalise disability, which is why I wrote my book.
“Splash is about being kind, encourage people to be accepting and I think particularly younger kids are far more accepting of it than adults.”
Claire with her GB team-mates at Rio 2016 - credit @ParalympicsGB
From a sporting perspective it might seem straight forward to assume that Claire’s 4x100m medley relay gold from the Rio 2016 Games would be a career highlight as she finally secured top spot on the podium at her fourth Paralympics.
However, the athlete herself looks back on her performances – and experiences – at London 2012 as some of the most memorable of her career to date.
“Being in front of a home crowd, walking out and hearing people chanting your name and hearing the incredible noise around stadium was just phenomenal,” she recalls.
“Then being able to walk away with a few medals (two silvers and a bronze) from the Games was really special, especially as the lead up had been slightly challenging, so to overcome that adversity was super special.”
Claire Cashmore competing for British Triathlon - credit Steve Cox
Despite her achievements at the Rio 2016 Games – gold and silver – Claire insists it did not feel like ‘mission accomplished’, but she was seeking a new challenge after decades dedicated to one sport.
“I had kind of fallen out of love with the sport and needed to reassess what I wanted to do,” Claire reveals.
“I'd considered moving to triathlon from a younger age, as I loved running as a kid and I enjoyed being on my bike, so I thought what a great thing to put them all together.
“I needed to change things up, step outside my comfort zone, do something that scared me and that’s definitely what I did, so it was the best move I've made.”
The postponed Tokyo 2020 Games, which took place in the summer of 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, saw her compete in a fifth Paralympics, but first in her new sport.
There she would again claim a podium place with bronze, but it was a “bittersweet” moment for the triathlete who was handed a controversial ‘drafting’ penalty during the cycling phase.
24 hours earlier she had also watched on as her partner, Dave Ellis, was denied his own medal after a technical problem.
“Tokyo was incredible and also terrible,” she recalls.
“Obviously watching my boyfriend Dave Ellis the day before with his chain (problem) was pretty heart-breaking and quite emotional seeing somebody that you care about having such misfortune, it’s really horrible.
“My race didn't also necessarily go with the drafting (penalty), but was still incredibly proud. of myself for managing to pick up that bronze medal and yeah, being able to hold on to that bronze medal was still incredible.”
Second at the World Triathlon Para Series event in Swansea boosted not only her confidence but also her Paris 2024 Paralympic qualification prospects and she is determined to better the bronze she won at Tokyo 2020 come next year’s Games.
“I can't wait to kind of hopefully show how more experienced I am, how much better physically I am and how I’m better positioned to put myself in to compete against best in the world,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).
“Obviously, the sport is getting more and more competitive and harder and harder, which means there’s definitely no time to be to get complacent.
“It's constant keeping you on your toes so I’ve lots of training to do before for Paris, but that makes it really exciting.”