HM Insights

From Switzerland to Swansea - catching up with Samantha Kinghorn

You're 18 years old. Preparing to compete in a major international sporting event in your home country, then another just a few weeks later. Looking ahead to Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro and beyond. Travelling the world to compete and train. And working hard every day to become faster and stronger. It must be well nigh impossible to take a breath, particularly when rivals are breathing down your neck in a 1500m race. It must be some experience being Samantha Kinghorn.

We caught up with Sammi, Scotland's leading T53 wheelchair racer and Harper Macleod's Athlete Ambassador for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, before her latest trip abroad in May to find out how her preparations are coming on, and what it's like to find yourself living the life of an international athlete.

Sammi competed in the BWRA British Championships at Stoke Mandeville in early May, and despite feeling a little under the weather, managed to set a new PB for the 400m – shaving a few tenths of a second off her previous best in tough conditions.

She said: "I was really pleased with the races. I was still shaking off a bit of a virus, it was pretty windy, and in the 400m I was drawn in lane one, which isn't the best as the turns are tighter in the inside lanes. So I was happy with my performances, and delighted to get another personal best."

She then headed to Switzerland to face some of Europe's top racers at the IPC Athletics Grand Prix and another meeting in the renowned Swiss Racing Series, at Nottwil, near Lucerne, before returning to compete at Bedford. That last event takes place on a particularly fast track, and the 18-year-old is looking forward to the chance to edge ever closer to the British records held by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

She said: "Packing your bag for Switzerland is so hard, because the weather changes every few minutes so you have no idea what it's going to be like. But it's lovely when it's sunny. I get a day off in between meets so I'm planning to go out on the lake and do some canoeing or something else that I don't get to do at home. I love Switzerland, and it actually reminds me of home because of the beautiful countryside.

"I've only raced on the Bedford track once, last year, and the prevailing wind meant that none of my times counted as official in the 100m because it basically blew me down it. Hopefully it will be calmer this year and I can record some good times on it. My 100m PB stands at 17.93 just now, and my aim is to get nearer to the British record this year."

(NB. Sammi set a new 100m PB in Switzerland).

Swansea bound?

The schedule for the European Championships, which take place in Swansea in August, shortly after Glasgow 2014, has now been revealed. Sammi is likely to be racing on the Tuesday and Thursday if selected for the GB team, which won't be announced until July. Is she confident she'll make the final cut?

"I really hope so," she says. "I'll be in the Commonwealth camp when I find out, so I'll have to wait on the phone call. Beyond Glasgow 2014 that's my big aim of the year, as I'll be racing within my own classification and in my favourite events."

While Sammi races at all distances, from 100m to 10k, she's a sprinter at heart, so the 1500m she'll compete over during Glasgow 2014 is a real challenge, but one she's come to like more and more.

"I'm feeling much more confident about it just because I'm gaining experience. There's a lot more technical skill involved, but following my trip to Dubai in April I've found that I'm enjoying the race a lot more, which bodes well for the Commonwealth Games."

A one-track mind

Before she's really had time to think about it, Sammi has gone from being a regular teenager to becoming a full time international athlete and public figure. As with all the adjustments she's had to make in recent years, it's taken some getting used to.

"To be honest it's still really weird. It's nothing I could ever have planned as I never would have thought I'd be this good at any type of sport. I always enjoyed sport but I never thought I'd find my niche in sport the way I have. I'm really glad I have. It's my dream job and you never really think you're going to get that kind of job.

"It's pretty surreal doing what I do. It's funny, because I find that people say 'It's easy though, isn't it? You just have to train.' And it isn't. Everything has to be judged and measured, and I've got so many things to factor in. I have to wake up at a certain time because I have to make sure I get the right amount of rest between training and I have to travel. And it's not nice sweating so many times a day! It's tough, but I train hard because I want to do really well. I love it though and would never change what I do."

Like all athletes, wheelchair racing is a career that won't last forever. However, while Sammi has plans for the future, she's determined to make the most of the opportunity the sport has given her.

"There are other things I'd like to do, such as studying psychology at university. But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can't come back to this is 10 years time. My dad's always said to me that if you have a chance with something just drive for it until you reach where you want to go. I'm more worried that I don't have enough time to do what I want to do. University is demanding, and I'd hate to think in 20 years time that if I'd given my sport a proper shot I might have achieved so much more in it."