Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn, Scotland’s leading wheelchair racer and Harper Macleod’s Athlete Ambassador, is going to Rio! Sammi has been selected for the Team GB squad to take part in the 2016 Paralympic Games, which take place from 7-18 September in Brazil.
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. Fast forward not quite three years and it is almost incredible to see what she has achieved – a Commonwealth Games appearance, triple European champion, World Championships bronze medallist and now a Rio 2016 Paralympian. We knew she was destined for big things, but we didn't appreciate how fast she could move.
On the day she was named in the 54-strong track & field team, we caught up with her to find out how it feels to achieve her dream of being a Paralympian.
The Paralympic call
Sammi Kinghorn was on her way back from a trip to the dentist (no fillings required) on the morning the Team GB Paralympic squad was announced, though she'd had a night to let her selection sink in. The long wait was over, even if the selectors had kept her hanging until the very last moment.
Replaying the moment the call came, she said: "We were told that the selectors meeting would finish at 4pm and that they would start calling people afterwards. By the time 10.30pm came I was getting a bit worried. Other people I know in the team had already found out and I was maybe having a little panic before the phone rang.
"I didn't know whether to scream or cry. On one hand it was such a relief, especially as my Mum and Dad had already booked their tickets to Brazil! My mum was relieved and my dad was just ecstatic. It also feels incredible - even that I don't have to say 'hopefully' any more when I'm talking about the Paralympics."
Thinking back to 2013, can she believe what she has achieved already in such a short career? "I was hopeful it would happen as it has, but I think I was expecting a lot more bumps along the way," she says. "I've been very lucky.
"I now know exactly what I'm aiming for. I know the dates that I'll be racing and I know what I want to achieve. Now I just need to go out there and show that I deserve to have been selected. There are so many people who were hoping to be selected but haven't been and it is really tough, especially in Britain where we have so many athletes, and so many big names.
"We knew it wasn't going to be a massive team because the event is in Rio and we don't have endless amounts of money to take everyone. I knew I was going to have to work as hard as I could to get on the plane. We've got so many young athletes too which makes it really difficult for the selectors. Do you go for experience or youth? I wouldn't like to be on the selection panel."
Part of a team
Now, she can't wait to get started. While Sammi isn't setting any medal goals, she's set her sights on reaching the final in each of her events – 100m, 400m and 800m. Anything more will be a bonus, even as a multiple European record holder and 2015 World Championship bronze medallist (in the 200m, an event not part of the T53 category at these Paralmpics).
"The Chinese, Australians and Americans are always really good, but at least now I'm the European record holder it helps me feel more relaxed going in, that I deserve to be there. I just can't wait to be on the world stage.
"My full Team GB kit should be delivered soon – there is always so much of it. I always think that one of the best moments as an athlete is when that kit comes through and you really feel that you are going. When you have the country colours on you feel that you are representing everyone and that's a good feeling, though no doubt I'll have all my friends down calling 'dibs' on everything.
"The Opening Ceremony is the moment when you realise you're there and it's all happening. Then stepping out into the Maracana Stadium for my first race, which will be a 100m heat. My family will be in the crowd and everyone will be watching at home. It's going to be so exciting."
One of the benefits of an ever increasing public profile is that along with her family and friends, Sammi now has a number of organisations who have joined Harper Macleod in supporting her as she dedicates herself to the life of a full-time athlete. For Sammi, being selected is a way of justifying everyone's faith in her.
She said: "I think I probably put more pressure on myself than the people around me do because I want to achieve for them. I always want to try my best, because that's all you can do, but for Harper Macleod and everyone else who supports me, I always want to do that little bit more to show that I'm worthy of all the support I get. I'm very lucky to have the amount of support that I have and to have so many people believing in me, that I can achieve the things that I'm dreaming of."
The team's first destination when they fly out in late August will be the training camp in Belo Horizonte, before they move on to Rio and the Athletes' Village a few days before the Paralympics begin. Sammi has a slight advantage on some of the other team members, having been part of an advance group in March that checked out the facilities they'll be using in Belo Horizonte.
"The three other girls I went with on that trip were all pre-selected for the Games while I wasn't absolutely sure that I would be going back with them in September so it is really nice to know that I'm going back. I also know a few practical things, like to pack a little bit more food and stuff as I can't easily get to a supermarket. It's helpful knowing that kind of information and means I'll be properly prepared."
Among the Scots named in the team is Jo Butterfield, the club and discus thrower with whom Sammi shares a special connection. The duo met in hospital back in 2011, both coming to terms with being paralysed. They spent five months together and since then have gone on to great things in the chosen sports.
Sammi said: "I've known Jo since day one really, so it's nice to be doing this together. I'm also looking forward to catching up with the rest of Team GB. Actually, one of the things I'm most looking forward to is when we fly home together. By that time we'll have had that experience together and it's a really nice time.
"While the Paralympics is a lot bigger than the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, it's the same kind of thing where there are multi-sports involved, not just the track and field that we're used to. It's exciting being able to watch the different sports and cheer them on."
Rio 2016 is just the start
While she'll allow herself a day or so to come to terms with her selection, there's a lot of hard work to be done before she gets in position on that starting line. And it is the start that could hold the secret to success.
"I've had a block of winter training so I've built up my strength and now it's about speed and getting quicker, hopefully even faster than I went in Switzerland when I set the European records. I just need to get my start as good as it can be.
"I've got another four weeks to work on it here and then when I get out to Belo that will be even better because I'll have other athletes training around me to do starts and things with. I think that will help a lot in getting my starts down. They are fine just now but that's the part I get really nervous about, and the more practice I can get I can make sure I get it right first time every time."
Sammi's Paralympic dream is about to start, and given what she has achieved since becoming part of Team HM back in 2013, we're sure that Rio will be just the beginning of her Paralympic story.
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.