The wait is finally over and Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn, Scotland’s leading wheelchair racer and Harper Macleod’s Athlete Ambassador, is on her way to her first ever Paralympics. Having been selected as part of the Team GB squad to take part in the Rio Games, Sammi is heading to the team training camp in Belo Horizonte before she flies to the Athletes Village in Rio on 4 September. The Opening Ceremony takes place on 7 September. Harper Macleod has been part of Team Kinghorn since 2013, when Sammi was a 17-year-old hoping to appear at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and with big dreams for the future. Now she's set to line up in the T53 category 100m, 400m and 800m in Rio. As she packed her Team GB kit for the long trip to South America, we caught up with Sammi for her final thoughts on what lies ahead in the biggest adventure of her career to date.
You'd think that as an athlete preparing for the biggest event of your life, the temptation might be to wrap yourself up in cotton wool in the days before you're due to travel, just in case.
But just a few days before Sammi Kinghorn was due to fly out to the Team GB Paralympic holding camp in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, she was in the Kinghorn camper van returning north from some tune-up racing in Coventry.
And in between packing for almost month-long trip, she was still managing two training sessions a day as she prepares to peak at exactly the right time in Rio.
While the Olympics were a celebration for everyone watching in Great Britain, for Sammi the Closing Ceremony meant something else entirely.
She explained: "It was great watching the Games and it was nice seeing all the athlete tweet and be interviewed as they came home, but then it's like 'oh, no! Once the Olympics finish, you're next up'. Until then I still felt like had plenty of time but I don’t really. I'm quite nervous just now but I'm excited too.
"I left my packing until the last few days. I'd actually sent my bags away to get my name written on them and they only came back three days before my flight. It was all kind of ready, just a bit scattered!
"Packing for these trips isn't actually too bad as you can only really take the kit you've been given. I just need to make sure I can fit in all my porridge pots! I'll obviously be getting my meals with the team but there are lots of snacks I take with me, things I'm used to having."
Controlling the controllable
While the Olympics have been a great story, there was some less welcome news about funding issues potentially affecting Paralympic teams from some nations, though not GB, reaching Brazil. Amid reports of poor ticket sales, Sammi hasn't allowed any of this speculation to affect her own preparations.
She said: "We don't know how it's going to affect things until we get out there and hopefully everything will be okay. You want the stadiums as full as possible for a good atmosphere but you have to remember that Brazil is a country whose first love is football, not athletics. As long as the viewing figures on Channel 4, for example, are good and we know that people in Britain and around the world are watching then that will mean just as much to us. You've got to focus on controlling the controllable!"
Before she reaches Rio and has her first taste of the Maracana Stadium in the T53 100m heats on 8 September, Sammi will first visit the Team GB holding camp in Belo, a place she knows well after being part of a fact-finding trip earlier this year. That's where she'll make the vital, final preparations on which her Paralympic dreams depend.
It's also where she's put into practice the strategies she's developed over the past few years of competition to focus her mind and try to make a positive of the butterflies and nerves she's bound to feel. It helps that she's set to again be rooming with her friend and multiple Paralympic gold medallist Hannah Cockcroft.
Sammi said: "I've got a week-and-a-half out in Belo where I can concentrate hard on everything I've got to do. It helps when I know that I'm going to have Ian Mirfin, my coach, there with me. He knows what I'm like and that I'm going to be nervous. Also having all the rest of the team around, the trainers and others, is good.
"I try to think about what I'm actually nervous about. I used to just block it out, and block it out and block it out. But now I find it helps to think about the things that I'm nervous about and it tends to be all the stupid stuff, like failing or things like that. I try to think about what could go really well and balance it out. You know, the best could also happen so I just try to chill out and think positively about it, about being on the start line.
"It can be horrible – you have images in your head of the chair falling apart. But when does that ever happen? Again, I focus on controlling the controllable – that's all I have to think about. Plus I've got three attempts at different distances!
"I'm pretty sure I'm going to be sharing with Hannah again and that's great. It's good to know who you'll be with, whether they're going to be snorers or early risers! Hannah and I get on really well and we've done it before. It's also good as she can inspire me. She's achieved so much at Paralympics and hopefully will achieve so much more. Seeing her come back with medals will encourage me even more to push my hardest."
For now, Sammi is just delighted to be on her way and looking forward to the Games experience, whatever it brings.
She said: "All I want to do in my first Paralympics is get through to their finals and whatever happens after that is a bonus. I also hoped that everyone can watch the Games and enjoy them, not just me but the whole of Team GB and the Paralympics as a major event. Coming after the Olympics where Team GB has done so amazing, it makes you want to be part of that.
"Watching them on the telly does inspire you, knowing that they're bringing all these medals back home. We want to do just as well, if not better, if we can!"
Sammi's racing schedule and start times at the Rio Paralympics:
- 100m heats, Thursday, 8 September - 16.39
- 100m final, Thursday, 8 September - 22.55
- 400m heats, Saturday 10 September - 16.23
- 400m final, Sunday 11 September - 21.54
- 800m heats, Saturday 17 September - 14.18
- 800m final, Saturday 17 September - 21.36
Find out more
You can find out more about Harper Macleod and Sammi here.
You can see the short film we made with Sammi as she trained around her Borders home here.