Paralympic swimming and cycling phenomenon Sarah Storey says she will approach her debut in the able-bodied England cycling team at the Commonwealth Games with the philosophy “it’s not about being the best, it’s about being the best I can be”.
The 32-year-old from Stockport said the Commonwealth Games will help her evolve as an athlete, as she notches another milestone in a career already replete with accolades.
Storey will make history as the first athlete to compete in both disability and able-bodied events for the England team at the Games, having swum in the disability events in the Manchester Games in 2002 under her maiden name of Bailey.
Storey, who has 16 Paralympic swimming medals to her name, made the move to cycling in 2005 after a series of ear infections kept her out of the pool for a prolonged period.
“It was purely a tool for staying fit,” she said, “One or two of the cyclists in Athens had said ‘you look like you could go a long way in cycling’. I did it so much I gained the skills without realising it.”
By the time doctors cleared her to go back in the pool, she already had a place on the British Paralympic cycling team and had broken a Para-cycling world record.
Storey could not get funding for two sports and opted for cycling, where she met her now husband, Barney, himself a double Paralympic gold medallist riding as pilot to visually impaired cyclists.
She has been equally prolific in the velodrome, with a string of accolades including two gold medals in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
In Delhi Storey will be in the unfamiliar position of competing unseeded when she takes to the track on 8 October in the women’s 3000m individual pursuit.
Storey said: “I’ve come into this as an underdog and one of the big differences, I suppose, from a personal perspective is I go into Paracycling events as one of the favourites, and I sit down as a defending champion to talk to people.”
With the experience of the Games “so valuable” in helping her to “evolve” as an athlete, she has not ruled out the possibility of competing in both the Olympics and Paralympics in London 2012. She is currently part of the women’s squad for the 3000m team pursuit in the London 2012 Olympics.
“If I’m good enough to compete in the Paralympics then I’ll obviously be in the Paralympics, illness and injury aside that’s my main aim.
“The paralympics is a month later than the Olympics so it’s physically possible to do both. I think I could. Never say never is probably the best way of putting it. If I get selected for both then that’s great, if I don’t I’ll go to one and that’ll be great too.”
Storey was born without a left hand, which in cycling means she cannot get as good a start as her competitors in the able-bodied event as she cannot start in as high a gear and pull on the handle bars in the same way.
This has meant hard work on her core strength to counter her slower start with a stronger second and third kilometre.
But she remains undaunted by the fact she will make history on 8 October. “At the end of the day, it still is just another bike race,” she said.