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The Sammi Kinghorn blog – Sheep, peeps … and a lack of sleep!

At Harper Macleod we're lucky to have Paralympian Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn as our Athlete Ambassador. We've been part of Team Kinghorn since 2013, when Sammi was a 17-year-old novice. Now 21, she is Britain's fastest ever female wheelchair racer and a Paralympian.

Following some record-breaking early season form in 2017, Sammi was selected for the World Para Athletics Championships which take place in the London Stadium from July 14-23. Here, she reflects on what it's like to be looked on as a real contender, her relationship with super-roomie Hannah Cockroft, and prospects for London.

Sammi Kinghorn Sheep Harper Macleod World Championships Hannah Cockcroft

Sammi on the farm in the early morning

It's been a busy season so far for Sammi Kinghorn, travelling the world and setting personal bests at every distance she'll be competing in at the London World Para Athletics Championships.

Still, there's always time for sheep. As she looked back on her selection, and ahead to London, the sound of bleating added an unusual soundtrack to the conversation – well, unusual for anyone who's never lived on a farm.

"Can you hear the sheep in the background," inquired Sammi. "They're pretty loud. We're shearing them at the moment. Yesterday we spent all day taking them into sheds because if it rains and they get soaked then you can't shear the sheep. So we had to get them inside and separate the lambs from the sheep. All the sheep get sheared today and we'll get them back to their lambs and then back to the fields."

Such is the life of Britain's fastest female wheelchair racer – if sheep shearing ever became a Paralympic sport she'd be a certainty for gold. Sammi was in great spirits, not only because she loves throwing herself into work on the farm, but because she has secured her place at the World Championships, where she'll compete in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m.

While her form has been outstanding, Sammi had taken nothing for granted. She said: "We've only got limited places on the British team and there are so many people who are guaranteed to be bringing home medals so I'm still not a certainty. I knew I was ranked in the top 5 for my events and had done all I could, but it's still nice to get that phone call and knowing that you're going to be there.

"I'm excited for London and I'm really lucky. I've pretty much had three homes games in such a short career – Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Europeans in Swansea and now the World Championships in London. Not many athletes can say they've had that opportunity and I don't know when that will happen again."

Out of the shadows, into the limelight

For probably the first time in her young career, Sammi goes into the Championships as one of the athletes to watch in the T53 category – by spectators and rivals alike. While she's been improving over every distance, and was already the European No.1, much of the attention comes from her world record setting form in America earlier in the season.

She said: "You could see it when I raced in Switzerland last month, it was different - especially in the 800m. I felt this time that I could actually be in the mix. Usually they all go off and I'm just tagging along, feeling like I could shout 'wait for me!'

"I don't feel like the wee one looking in anymore. People want to know what I'm doing now, what equipment I'm using etc. I'm going to get more attention which is nice."

Sammi won a World Championship bronze medal over 200m in Doha in 2015, but while the recent world record also came over 200m, another 0.03 seconds in a later race in Switzerland and it would have been a 100m and 200m double record.

Sammi said: "It was a strange feeling in Switzerland. I knew that my starts were a lot better than before in the 100m but Angie Ballard is an amazing starter so it was unreal to see myself in front of her on my first push – I've never been there before in my life. If you get it wrong in the first few pushes it can be over and I really wanted to win. I did 16.23 and then my time got lowered to 16.21. The world record is 16.19, and that is literally so tiny. That's exciting to me.

"A Chinese athlete, Lisha Huang, set that world record at the Paralympics in Rio. I think I was almost a second behind her. Now, with that time, I would have been right on her wheel.

"I still don't quite believe it. We're heading to London and as usual we don't know how the Chinese athletes are doing this season, but it's scary going in with the No.1 time. It'll be nice at the start line because, unless it's beaten beforehand, they'll announce that I'm the world record holder. If someone's better on the day so be it, but it will be nice going in as the person to beat for once."

"Ian's always embedded it in my head and my family's that it will be Tokyo before I hit my peak. So it's unexpected to be setting these times just now."

Meeting your heroes (and friends)

One highlight of the season so far came when Sammi had the chance to spend some time in the company of American wheelchair racing great Tatyana McFadden – an athlete Sammi has always idolised. The opportunity came as part of a training week with US athletes in Illinois, and Sammi, world record and all, still sounds a little starstruck.

"She's amazing!" she said. "Believe it or not I get quite shy around new people. Ian's always telling me to get in among it but I like to sit back and watch what they're doing before I involve myself. I actually beat Tatyana once when we were practising starts, which was great. We also did a 400m and I was ahead after 200m but then she came through. I'm getting closer, which is pretty cool."

What is it about McFadden, whose sister Hannah is also a Paralympian, that makes her so special?

"Her acceleration is so much better than anyone else's – half the men can't keep up with her when she picks up her arms," Sammi says. "It's amazing to watch. I think that has to be an element of talent there but that only goes so far. She looks after herself very well and her mindset is fantastic. She's also just a really nice person, and really down to earth."

While Tatyana McFadden is one of Sammi's heroes, another is someone she doesn't have to be so shy around – long-time room-mate Hannah Cockroft.

The pair will resume their double act in London, and Sammi is grateful to have the support of a friend who already has seven World Championship gold medals to her name.

Sammi said: "Before a big race I'll be up all night with nerves. I tell myself that if I have a good night's sleep two nights before then that's how it works. I literally just sit in my bed staring at the wall. I care so much about it and I want to do well and I'm going to have lots of friends and family watching me so I want to do well.

"Hannah, on the other hand, sleeps and I've got to wake her up in the morning. She'd never make a race if I wasn't there! But she's really good.

"In Doha I had loads of racing early on in the event and hers were at the end. She'd still get up and come to breakfast with me at 6am because she'd know I'd been up. We'll put a movie on and she'll say "I'm probably going to fall asleep", but she can sleep through telly etc."

With a bit of luck, and plenty of talent, hopefully there will be plenty for the duo to celebrate in the room in July.

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.

You can also follow Sammi on Twitter and Facebook