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 veteran of major championships.
Just over five years ago, Sammi lined up for her first ever wheelchair race – the 2012 London Mini-Marathon. We caught up with her as she looked back on that memory, and at the painful winter training regime which will hopefully set her up for a return to London this summer for the World Para Athletics Championships.
[UPDATE15.05.17 : All the hard work paid off as Sammi smashed the T53 200m World Record in her first race of the season in Arizona. She recorded a time of 28.67 to take more than a quarter of a second off the previous record. She won all five of her races at the first big meet of the season.]
After some long, dark months during which Sammi Kinghorn laid the foundations for the season ahead, Scotland's leading wheelchair racer is ready to begin racing with competitions in the US and Europe over the next few weeks.
This year, all roads lead to London, where the World Para Athletics Championships take place in July.
It's a far cry from April 2012, when Sammi took part in the race which started the wheels turning on her sporting career. She can vividly recall her 16-year-old self on the start line of the London Mini-Marathon, back when she couldn't have imagined what the future would bring.
Sammi said: "I can still remember it so well. We got into London at 2am and I was so nervous beforehand and at the start. But I can remember crossing the finish line and thinking that was so much fun. My mum and dad were there too, and none of us realised how far this would take us. The time has gone really fast though I can't quite believe that's five years already.
"I've been to every major since then – Commonwealth Games, European Championships, World Championships and Paralympics - and I don't think I could really have envisaged that. It was my dream and I wanted to get there but to be selected so soon and continue to be on the team has been amazing.
"A lot has changed, but some things never do. I still get so nervous before the start of a race. And at the end, especially if I see the time and I've done well, I always know that it's been worth it - even those training sessions where you feel like you're going to throw up everywhere. I don't think you can do the sport unless you really love it and I still enjoy most sessions."
Winter training – and a spot of sunshine
Sammi has just completed what is really only her third full-on winter training regime – a gruelling period during which she pushes her body to the limit to increase her strength and conditioning for the year ahead. The hard graft was lightened a little by a training camp in Tenerife in April, where she was joined by coach Ian Mirfin and Irish racer Pat Monahan among others, but even then it's something only the dedicated could endure.
She says: "You are literally sore every day. You get up every morning and you're going to have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Every time you're in the gym you're trying to lift heavier weights than you did the day before. There is no slackening off so it's tough. You're pushing and feel like your arms cannot move any faster, it's almost like you're in slow motion even though you're going at a good speed. It's a funny feeling but you've just got to push through it.
"In Tenerife I did a lot of time trials and my speeds are good, even though I'll usually have done half a training session beforehand and they are during hard weeks of training. I was going quite a bit faster than last year and was always in and around my PBs so I think it went really well. You don't really know until you race so it's a bit scary. I don't want to be too confident.
"I think the improvement comes down to a combination of my new chair then the fact that I'm getting a bit stronger and maturing. I've probably stopped growing and my muscles are starting to mature a wee bit. All of this helps, and I'm also a more confident."
Flying start to the racing season
Sammi's first races of the season take place on the 13th and 14th of May in Phoenix, Arizona, where she'll meet some of the top Americans and others such as her Paralympic rival Jessica Lewis of Bermuda. With temperatures likely to be in the mid-30s, the Tenerife training will come in handy.
[Sammi smashed the T53 200m World Record while racing in Phoenix, and also won the 100m, 400m, 800m and 1500m. Her coach Ian Mirfin said: "No athlete deserves this more, I have seen close up the effort that Sammi puts in. Sometimes athletes are talented, sometimes they are hard working but when you get both together and a willingness to learn and improve then you have something special. It also helps when you deal with people with grace and dignity as Sammi does, so proud and privileged to get to work with such a unique talent." See the short BBC report]
She'll then visit Illinois for a week's training before going down to Indianopolis for some more racing on the 19th and 20th of May. It's a busy schedule, made even more so by the fact that she'll be home for just over a day before flying off to Switzerland for the biggest European meets of the season.
However, in comparison to previous years Sammi has reduced the racing she'll do in 2017 to make sure that she peaks for the World Championships.
She explained: "I'm deliberately not doing too many races this season, as I don't want to over race. I've got four big races, where I'll have the most competition, so hopefully I'll see where I am and do well. It's all about getting my qualifying standards and being in the top six in the world for selection, which takes place on the 5 June."
Help Sammi's marathon adventure – support her crowdfunding campaign
After the World's, Sammi is aiming to do her first ever marathon in Chicago in October, in a bid to achieve the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games marathon in 2018.
To make this possible, her team is trying to crowdfund the £1500 needed to train at the US Paralympic Wheelchair Racing Centre and compete in the Chicago Marathon.
As part of this bid, her coach Ian Mirfin is back running for the first time in 27 years with his sights set on completing a 10k race in June (his own personal marathon).
Visit the crowdfunding page here to find out more and lend support.
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.