Hannah Cockroft has overcome intense pressure to win five Paralympic golds on the track, but says it’s nothing compared to impressing Paul Hollywood in the Bake Off tent.
Team GB’s leading light Hannah Cockroft felt more pressure in her stint on the Great British Bake Off than she does when vying for Paralympic glory.
Cockroft won two gold medals at London 2012 and three more in Rio de Janeiro four years later, and the 29-year-old has travelled to Japan for her third games, hoping to add more medals to her growing collection.
There will be expectation upon her as one of the most recognisable athletes representing Team GB in Tokyo, but Cockroft says competing is less nerve-wracking than it was to appear on the celebrity version of Bake Off.
She told PA: “It was never the plan to be a Paralympian, I’ve kind of just rolled with it and every opportunity that’s come up, I’ve said ‘yes’.
“The TV cameras didn’t bother me – cooking in front of Paul Hollywood definitely that, every day that, so scary.
“Racing, I practise every day, I could do it in my sleep, it’s my job.
“Whereas when you’re standing in front of a professional baker and he’s going, ‘Hannah, why are you doing that?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve no idea – because you’ve written it on my bit of paper is why I’m doing it’, it’s scary.”
As well as her appearance on Bake Off, Cockroft has also had the chance to present long-running BBC nature show Countryfile.
‘Hurricane Hannah’, from Halifax in West Yorkshire, has deformities to her hips, legs and feet after suffering two cardiac arrests shortly after she was born.
She hasn’t let that stop her dominating the T34 racing category, though, and is hopeful of defending her 100m and 800m titles in Tokyo to take her closer to Tanni-Grey Thompson’s total of 11 golds at the Paralympic Games.
Cockroft said: “I’ve done things that I guess people would only dream of doing – I’ve represented my country, I’ve presented on BBC Countryfile, I’ve met the Queen, I’ve got an MBE.
“I’ve done all of these things and I’m very bad on looking back on what I’ve actually done.
“I’m very much a person that goes, ‘OK, cool, what’s next?’, instead of going, ‘Oh wow, that was an amazing experience’.
“I’ll have some very impressive things to look back on when I’m old. My life’s probably very different to what it could have been without sport, let’s put it that way.
“Ultimately, I’ve just enjoyed every second and gone with it.”
Cockroft is one of a number of athletes who have become very well-known due to their successes in the Paralympics.
And she believes it’s only going to get more attention going forwards as “a lot more people since London 2012 see Paralympians as elite athletes”.
She said: “It’s nice to have more household names really and Paralympic sport is just going to keep growing.
“I would hate to think that there are still kids out there thinking they can’t do sport because they are disabled.
“It’s important to be a role model. It is nice to have that responsibility and hopefully help to change someone else’s life as much as sport has changed mine.”