To reach the top of your sport is an achievement most people can only dream of, but Kadeena Cox has accomplished something even more remarkable, she’s a dominant force in two. The 25-year-old is the current world champion and world record holder in the 500m para-cycle time trail and world number two in the T38 400m sprint.
What’s more, even before touching down on Brazilian soil for the 2016 Paralympics, Kadeena Cox has earnt her place in the history books. For she is the first British Paralympic team member since 1992 to represent her country in two sports. If she medals in both she will be the first Brit to do so in nearly 30 years.
The Manchester physiotherapy student, who was diagnosed with Multiple Schlorosis in 2014, is entered for five events in all, which means her timetable and training schedule are full on.
“I was recommended to concentrate on one sport because sprinting and cycling do not complement each other at all – you use the same muscle groups but in different ways,” explains Kadeena. “But my MS means I can relapse any time, so I’m going to try to do everything I can now for as long as I can.”
An exceptional track talent from her mid-teens, Kadeena initially dreamed of representing her country as an able-bodied sprinter. But in May 2014 she woke up to find it difficult to walk or talk and was rushed to hospital to be told she’d had a stroke. She made a full recovering but was readmitted four months later with her severest relapse to date and the true cause was discovered. “This particular relapse is why I can be classified,” explains Kadeena. “It left me with a few permanent difficulties.”
The main symptoms Kadeena faces when she trains and competes are spasms, heat intolerance, sensation problems, including tingling and some numbness, and the big one – fatigue. A great benefit of being on the GB squad is that she has access to a team of experts and the latest medical and technical advancements available to get the very best out of her performance.
“I’ve worked a lot with the doctor and the physio on fatigue and I now have two rest days a week, more than others will have doing two sports,” she explains. “We also have a machine called a Normatex which is used on my legs to flush out anything that might be in there in the hope that I don’t have jelly legs the next time I get up. I call it my pal Norma.”
Kadeena is currently on a new medication for her muscle spasms and sensory loss, “which seems to be working really well” and is have a daily injection to prevent relapses. “I want to go down a more holistic route after the Games but hopefully they’ll keep me stable for now,” she says.
Fast becoming a trademark of the athlete’s, is her full arm-length DM Orthotics glove, which helps contain spasms in her right arm. It’s part of an essential range of kit in her armoury, including a vest, shorts and socks, which uses the latest thinking in reinforced clothing to help with movement control and realignment.
“The glove and vest make a huge difference, helping me to keep running towards the tail end of my race and improve my sprint timings,” says Kadeena. “In cycling they mean I can lock onto the handlebars more easily and have more control when I cross the finish line. It’s a very exciting area of development that has proven beneficial for many conditions, including the mobility of children with cerebral palsy, which is something I’d like to specialise in when I graduate.”
Kadeena’s studies are currently on hold till after Rio, a goal she’s even more grateful for after reclassification earlier this year momentarily threw her selection into doubt. She went from a C2 to a C4 in cycling and a T37 to a T38 for her track events, both pitting her against less disabled athletes.
“I’d said beforehand, if anything could mess up this year it would be a change in classification and very frustratingly it happened,” recalls Kedeena. “Due to the nature of my condition it’s just something I have to face.”
Despite being reclassified in cycling only the day before this year’s World Championships, Kadeena still took Gold in her new class, breaking the world record in the process. In athletics things were less straightforward. “I dropped down the rankings a lot, so it meant I had to get more races in to try to qualify, which was stressful. Sprinting is extremely important to me. It’s my happy place.”
She attributes her love of sprinting and a certain amount of bloody mindedness for getting her through her diagnosis and to this momentous point. Remarkably, the day after she was rushed into hospital she was already fundraising to get back into sport.
“I’ve been told on many occasions that I wouldn’t be able to do something,” says Kadeena. “I was told I wasn’t going to the Paralympics. I was told I wouldn’t be able to do a 400. I was told I couldn’t do both cycling and sprinting. But I suppose I’m a little bit stubborn. I just follow my heart.”