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The Women's Sports Alliance

PRESENTS...

Daphne Schrager – switching sports, a rainbow jersey and Paralympic dreams

“I remember being like, ‘they’ve literally won Paralympic and World gold medals, why are they even speaking to me?’ reveals Daphne Schrager. “I'm a nobody!”



Daphne Schrager is now the proud owner of her own rainbow jersey, after becoming a Para Cycling World champion last year, but she recalls a time – not too long ago – when she was “trembling with nerves” approaching the National Cycling Centre in Manchester.

While the idea of competing on a track was familiar the then teenager’s previous elite sporting experiences had seen her run, rather than ride, around them.

Her most memorable result came in front of nearly 30,000 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, where she finished fifth in the T35 100m.

But now, in a near deserted venue ahead of a ‘guesting’ debut with the British Para Cycling team Daphne wondered whether she would ever feel like she belonged in her new ‘home’. She need not have worried.

Paralympic and World champion para cyclist Steve Bate soon interrupted her thoughts.

‘Hi, how are you? Joining us on the track today? Don’t be nervous you’ll be fine mate,’ he quickly remarked with a smile before heading to warm-up.

The pair had not met before, but the first of many instances where she noticed a vast cultural difference compared to the discipline she had left.

“I came in from a sport where even though you’re part of a network, it's very much individualised,” she tells the Women’s Sports Alliance.

“In British Cycling, there’s a community where there’s always someone there for a chat, whether you've been there for like 10 years and won everything or are just coming in, everyone gets the same mutual respect.

“The support and that camaraderie makes a really big difference and really spurs you on even when you’re having a bad day because you’re a team, a family, which is amazing.”


Image courtesy of SWPix / British Cycling


SPORTING BEGINNINGS AND WATCHING LONDON 2012

As a child with cerebral palsy Daphne did not expect to be embarking on a sporting career.

She recalls her early experiences at school with able-bodied students saw her selected for “D-team hockey” and thinking “I'm really rubbish at this.”

Then came a moment, which although seemingly small at the time, changed the course of her life.

“I remember that I didn’t come last in a primary school running race,” she says while laughing. “I think from there, I was like ‘well, I can’t be that bad and maybe I should do more of this!”

She was 11 when the London 2012 Paralympic Games took place and she was able to see both Para-athletics and Para-dressage events in person.

“I watched the wheelchair racing and thought I would probably fall out of one, but at the same time it made me realise what other people with disabilities could do and that was a ‘wow’ moment,” Daphne recalls.

The teenager was 17 when she took to the track at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.



She recalls thinking that it was both the “most amazing” experience of her life, but also wishing at the time that she had been “more prepared” for the atmosphere in the venue.

“My (elite) sporting experience really came from then on and I learned about pressure, but it really got under my skin,” says the now 22-year-old.

“I was aware of other sports and in sixth form (college) I started to wonder what else there might be for me.”

Daphne applied for a talent day with the British Cycling team in 2019 and after five intense rounds of testing she was reward with a place in their foundation programme.

CEREBRAL PALSY AND SURVIVING IN ELITE SPORT


Image courtesy of SWPix / British Cycling


Daphne has cerebral palsy (CP), which is a condition impacting movement and coordination – so adapting to a new sport certainly created “challenges” for her.

“You can have a lot of fluctuations where one day you feel great, you’re hitting your targets and your riding generally is going really well,” she says.

“Then on others, particularly when you’re started to get tired, you start to have more tremors and be a bit clumsier. There have been times I’ve not been able to clip out of a wheel when stopping for traffic lights and I’ve fallen on the road in my GB tracksuit.

“Sometimes your cognitive processing isn't as quick and you have slower reactions to things, which makes it a bit more difficult to get through sessions or be switched on.

“You just have to adapt and think, ‘okay, today I can’t do that, but I can probably do something else (training wise)’ and come up with a plan B or C.”

BECOMING WORLD CHAMPION AFTER WATCHING F1


Image courtesy of SWPix / British Cycling


Together with her coaching team they have devised a winning formula, with Daphne claiming her maiden C3 World title in the 3km individual pursuit last year.

It far exceeded her expectations for the event in France.

“For me, even to go was a massive achievement,” she tells the WSA.

“To even be in the mix with the best of the world when I was targeting top-five and looking to try and make the final was a shock.

“I was nervous beforehand but spoke to my mum and she was like, ‘just peddle you bike, wear your (lucky) pink scrunchie and your flamingo socks if you can and if it’s good great, if not we can have an ice cream afterwards.’

“It was mental and the atmosphere was just electric with the whole team on a good vibe and riding so well and it was a bubble of pure excitement.”

An avid F1 fan, Daphne watched ‘Rush’ ahead of the final and was clearly inspired by their speed as she stunned double Paralympic champion Keiko Sugiura of Japan and claimed gold.

Receiving the medal was an experience she will never forget.

“It was honestly surreal, because you watch all the (Dame) Sarah Story’s and all the other big names get on top of podium and think ‘that’ll never be me,” she admits with a shake of the head.

“When I stood down from the podium, they were like, ‘what size do you want the jersey to be?’ and I was like, ‘I didn’t even expect to be here, let alone know that.’

“I hadn’t had my make-up or my hair done, I was pretty unprepared and forgot the whole national anthem, but they said it was fine and I just had the biggest grin on my face!”

This season the success has continued with the cyclist claiming two gold medals at the first UCI Road World Cup of 2023.


Image courtesy of SWPix / British Cycling


PRE-PARALYMPIC TRACK TARGETS

Qualifying for next year’s Paris 2024 Paralympics will be a key target in the near future and Daphne hopes to use this summer’s multi-discipline World Cycling Championships in Glasgow as a dress-rehearsal for the Games.

“I think it’s going to be brilliant as it’s the first time in cycling that Para and AB (able-bodied) will be together,” she says.

“It's also really, really exciting to get like a ‘Paris simulation’ of racing on track which is just down the road.

“The atmosphere will be amazing, especially in the velodrome, so I can't wait to see what I can do.”

And Daphne has a message for any athletes perhaps struggling or experiencing frustration in their existing sport about the benefits of trying out something new.

“Believe in yourself, work hard and do it with a smile and the results will come,” she tells the WSA.

“It might not necessarily be overnight, because I wasn’t great to begin with and there can be dips, but that’s often just before something amazing happens.

“So, keep fighting and remember that anything is possible!”


From one track to another - credit @daphneschrager15

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