Sammi’s flying high

Things are hotting up for Samantha Kinghorn – literally.

The 18-year-old wheelchair racer, Harper Macleod's Athlete Ambassador for Glasgow 2014, headed off to the UAE on Wednesday, February 19 to get some valuable warm weather training and take part in two high-class international race meets.

Sammis Flying High

Not only that, but while she's away Samantha will miss two awards ceremonies where she could pick up more accolades to join her growing trophy cabinet.

She's been shortlisted for awards at both the Glasgow Sports Person of the Year Awards (Disabled Athlete of the Year and Young Sportsperson of the Year) and the Scottish Borders Youth Awards.

And she recently found herself at the cutting edge of sports science, as she discovered just how fit she really is.

We caught up with her before she flew off to find out what's been happening, and what lies in store.

Since 2009, The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Fazza Grand Prix in Dubai has brought together some of the world's best disabled athletes to compete. The event offers wheelchair racers such as Sammi the chance to do all track distances from 100m through to 1500m – the distance she'll compete in at Glasgow 2014. More than that, though, it give an early season indication of just how their training is coming along.

Sammi, who'll also took part last year, can't wait to get out there and get started. She said: "I know where I'm going and exactly what to expect, so I feel a lot more comfortable about it. The competition will be at a good standard. I should do okay in the sprints, but there will be a number of really good athletes in the longer distances, people who've competed at the world championships.

"I'll be up against some of the same people from this time last year, and a lot of the good Swiss athletes will be there. We also think there may be some people from countries such as Nigeria, who'll be using the meet to get times for the Commonwealth Games. So it's a chance to see them and who I might be up against in Glasgow.

"I think things are going really well just now. It's still very early in the season but I feel good and this trip will be a good way of finding out how I'm progressing. I'm aiming to peak for the European Championships and Glasgow 2014, which are still a long way off. Basically, this trip is warm weather winter training, but with some great racing thrown in.

"The temperature difference takes a bit of getting used to, especially as I have asthma. It's around 30 degrees there, which is a lot different to m yusual training conditions. Recently I've had to drink litres and litres of water, even though I don't need it, so that my body gets used to taking fluids on. It's been tough but it's something you have to do."

Though under the watchful eye of coach Ian Mirfin the trip will be an intense mixture of training and racing, with the four-day FAZZA meet followed by the two-day Al Thiqa meet in Sharjah, it won't all be hard work. "I'll get a day off when we arrive to acclimatise a little and chill out. Ian's good that way, and if we want to do some shopping or something like that we can. Then we'll be training and racing."

It will also offer Sammi the chance to train with other wheelchair athletes, a welcome break from the solo training her relative isolation in the Scottish Borders brings. Megan Dawson-Farrell, her fellow Scot who competes in the T54/57 category, will also make the trip, and Sammi said: "Its great for me, because unlike most other athletes, including Megan, I usually train alone and it can be hard to stay motivated. We'll live in each others pockets on this trip!"

Sammi recently took part in some groundbreaking fitness tests at the sportscotland Institute of Sport at the University of Stirling.

Sports scientists at the institute carried out VO2 tests – an established way of testing an endurance athlete's aerobic fitness - with wheelchair athletes for the first time. The tests are a gruelling experience, with Sammi wearing an oxygen mask and having to sustain four minutes at each pace, before the treadmill was speeded up.

Not only did she get a measure of her fitness, but she also found out a bit more about how she can push herself to new heights. She said: "It's the first time I've ever done it and it was really cool. Being on a treadmill was a completely different feeling to using the rollers I'm used to training on at home (which were custom made from old combine harvester parts by Sammi's dad Neil), particularly as you can't just stop when you want to - someone else is conrolling the speed.

"It was hard, but really interesting and it shows you how much of performance is psychological. You have to hold a speed for four minutes and I'm sure on the rollers I would have stopped and not pushed myself further. But because you have to, you keep going."