Kadeena Cox is already a history-making Paralympian, having won gold medals in both cycling and athletics events at Rio 2016, but she wants to be remembered for inspiring profound change through a lasting legacy.
Athletics has always been her passion and Cox dreamt of competing for Great Britain at the Olympics before suffering a stroke in 2013 and subsequently being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
She took up cycling to aid her recovery and the athlete, who admits she is “not very good at making decisions” decided she wanted to attempt racing for gold in both events at Rio 2016.
Cox did just that and became the first British Paralympian to claim titles in two different sports at a Games since 1984.
In subsequent years she has spoken openly about not only her challenges with MS, but also an numerous injuries and an eating disorder.
In an exclusive interview with the WSA Cox explains how she hopes speaking about her struggles will help make it easier for others to open up. She also reveals her plans for improving diversity in cycling – with only two athletes across the British Olympic and Paralympic teams at the Tokyo 2020 Games having hailed from a black background.
Q – you won two cycling gold medals and finished fourth on the athletics track at Tokyo 2020 earlier this summer. How do you reflect on the Games now?
“I’ve spoken openly about the injury problems I’ve had ahead of the Paralympics, so athletics was always going to be a struggle for me and I didn’t achieve what I was going to achieve a year ago, but I achieved more than I thought I would a month before the Games.
“Mentally it was quite tough throughout the summer with my disordered eating and the injuries playing on my mind, so to go out there in cycling and perform in such a way that I broke two world records and won two gold medals was amazing. There’s nothing I could fault about the 400m performance either, I just hadn’t been able to do enough athletics training so that makes me excited about what I can do next year - guys, I’m coming back!”
Q – You’ve overcome a number of personal challenges over the last eight years. How much of a difference do you hope speaking out about these will make?
“When I had the stroke and was diagnosed with MS I was in such a low place. There were days I was in so much pain I blacked out, but it was sport which helped me overcome that. Once I was able to get back running it was always about trying to inspire and empower people who have these setbacks to realise they can overcome them.
“I don’t want my life controlled by my MS, I don’t want my life controlled by my disordered eating. For a long time I was frustrated by having another thing to overcome after the stroke and the injuries, but I eventually found a way to manage the disordered eating. I want to show others and perhaps give them that little spark of hope and change someone’s thought process to help put them back on the right path.”
Q – You were the only black rider on the British Paralympic cycling team at the Rio Games and there was only one other on the Olympic team at Tokyo 2020. How important is improving diversity in cycling to you?
“There hasn’t been much of a change since 2016, but I’ve set up my ‘KC Academy’ to try and get more people from a black background into cycling. This year I think it’s been amazing with myself and Kye White (on the Olympic team), both from a black background getting medals and doing something special.
“I hope that encourages people and I want to try and support them through my academy to Paris 2024 and beyond. I think there’s a real opportunity with what we’ve achieved and the momentum from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.”
Q – You’re looking at competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year and that could be a crucial catchment area too I’d imagine?