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The Women's Sports Alliance


Kadeena Cox – people doubt my disability and say I fake it

Picture courtesy of @ParalympicsGB

“I get told I shouldn't be in the Paralympics, that I don't have a disability,” states Kadeena Cox, with a shake of her head.

The British gold medal-winning Para-athlete turned history-making champion para-cyclist is used to facing and overcoming obstacles, but this is different.

For background - and as Kadeena is keen to point out - she was once a young athlete with Olympic aspirations before a stroke at the age of 22 and a subsequent multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis which changed the course of her life.

She could have abandoned her dreams, but she found a new focus.

In the near decade since her stroke Kadeena has not only made British Paralympic history,

with golds in two sports at the same Games in 2016, but also became the first black athlete to win a Paralympic cycling gold.

She used that achievement to highlight the need for greater diversity in the sport.

Her successes have come despite real physical struggles, but also increasing these new confrontations closer to home.

“I get challenged on using a blue badge sport in a priority bay, or using a priority toilet,” the two-time Paralympian tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).

“I'm like, ‘you can't see the fact that my bladder doesn't work correctly, you also can't see the fact that I'm in agony because I've got neurological pain, you can't see the fact that my brain is doing weird things’ and I just find it (the situation) really frustrating.”

Her comments come after new research by health insurer Bupa revealed that 71% of people in invisible or less visible disabilities have been challenged about their condition in the last year.

83% of respondents also stated that this lack of understanding had impacted their mental health, with knock-on effects including heightened anxiety in public spaces, lowered self-esteem and an avoidance of leaving their homes.

This is something Kadeena Cox can, reluctantly, relate to.

“The findings are shocking, but they don’t surprise me,” she admits. ““I struggle with an eating disorder that I've openly spoken about previously and my mental health is suffering because people are questioning my disability too.

“It’s unfair and so frustrating that people feel they can make comments about my disability and sometimes it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.”

The athlete admits she does often as “calmly” as she can, try to respond and “better educate” those who do question her, but also utilises her social media platforms.

“it’s important to get the message across wherever I can and sometimes I’ll have a bit of fun (with my disability) on social media and Tik Tok, but not everyone is in a position to do that.

“People need to be more aware that disabilities can show differently because for example some days I use a wheelchair and others I don’t, so my illness can be very invisible.”

Kadeena hopes that by speaking out it will help members of the public think before they challenge others in a public space.

She is an athlete who has consistently used her platform to create positive change, as seen with the launch of the KC Academy which provides ethnically diverse athletes with more opportunities to compete in cycling.

Despite recently dabbling in the world of acting - with a cameo in the BBC’s ‘Doctors’ show and winning the 2021 Celebrity Masterchef programme - she insists her competitive sporting career is far from finished though.

An “agonising” injury saw her withdraw from England’s Para-athletics team for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, but she is now back in training.

She aims to return to the podium at the Para-cycling World Championship later this month; before taking on challenges on the running track next year.

“Obviously it was a shame having to miss Birmingham because of injury and I’ve had a year of not competing very much, but I’m looking forward to the Worlds,” she tells the WSA.

“I'm excited about getting back into that major championship zone even though it’s kind of scary after hardly any competition over the last year.

“Next year is a big one with athletics and cycling world's just like two weeks apart, so at the moment I’m just training as an athlete, but yeah, if anyone wants to get me in any more TV shows I’m kind of up for anything,” she says with a smile.

“I’d also like to do a documentary looking at multiple sclerosis and how people with MS live with an invisible illness, to try to showcase and educate other people, that’s kind of my kind of next projects, along with hopefully a book!”


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