At Harper Macleod we're lucky to have double World Champion wheelchair racer Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn as our Athlete Ambassador. We've been part of Team Kinghorn since 2013, when Sammi was a 17-year-old newcomer. Now 21, she was named Scottish Sportsperson of the Year 2017.
Fast becoming a household name, in her latest article she talks about marathons, representing her country, having the backing required to be a professional athlete, life plans … and learning to play the guitar!
Being named Scottish Sportsperson of the Year 2017 at the Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards would have been an amazing end to an incredible campaign for Sammi Kinghorn – except she's still got a few miles left to go this season.
Following an outstanding year that saw her break World and European records, a stunned Sammi became the first para-sport athlete to lift the Emirates Lonsdale Trophy in front of a host of sporting stars at Edinburgh's EICC. Her name joined past winners including Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Andy Murray and Dame Katherine Grainger on the trophy.
It was a double triumph as earlier in the night she'd received the award for Scotland's Para-sport Athlete of the Year.
However, Harper Macleod's Athlete Ambassador didn't have much time to rest on her laurels – after competing in the Great Scottish Run on October 1, she flies to the US to compete in her first ever marathon in Chicago on 8 October with a view to qualifying for the event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Over a week after the awards, the recognition of her achievements had still to sink in. Sammi said: “It was something I'd never thought of so it was totally unexpected. I probably had it in my head that a para-sport athlete had never won it so I wasn't going to. Once I'd received the Para-sport Athlete of the Year award I just went back to my table and relaxed, thinking, 'that's that!'
"Before that award was announced I thought there was at least a chance that I might win it and it's amazing to be considered one of our top para athletes. But for the overall award, even when they were announcing the name I was sitting with my brake on, just listening, not even remotely thinking that I might have to move. Then it was, 'Oh, hang on, that's me!'
"To be the first para athlete to win it is pretty cool, and it was special to share the moment with my Mum and Dad, my coach and friends."
Marathon is nothing to snicker about
Speaking to HM just after finishing a 13-mile training run in and around Glasgow Green with coach Ian Mirfin, all thoughts of awards are taking a back seat to preparations for her first ever marathon. She has just recovered from a wrist injury which had restricted her training before her US adventure, which could lead to an Australian one.
Being reminded that her 26.2mile race is fast approaching doesn't make it sound any easier.
"Don’t tell me that!" she laughed. "The furthest I've done so far is about 19 miles and I'm going to try one a bit longer between now and the race. I'll get a chance to train with some of the US athletes beforehand it will be interesting to see what a real marathon racer trains like. Most athletes do some track as well as road races, though not so many sprinters like me!"
Once Chicago is out of the way, Sammi will have a chance to get her head around what is to all intents and purposes a three-year cycle to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, albeit with some pitstops along the way.
She explained: "Even after Rio last year, it felt like the next target was Tokyo. The Paralympic Games is by far the biggest event in our calendar. I do feel a bit like my whole life is being planned for me. I know exactly what I'll be doing and when. It's quite weird when you're concentrating so much on something that's a few years away, but you know that it will come around really quick as well.
"It's good to have things like the Commonwealth Games next year and to try a different event like the marathon and go to a nice part of the world. It's also another chance to represent my country at a big even, and that's why I do my sport. If I'm not trying to represent my country by reaching these events then why am I doing it? But everything is going towards Tokyo really."
Sky's the limit
Sammi has been lucky enough to be supported on the way to achieving her goals by a number of backers, including Harper Macleod, and recently became one of 10 young British athletes chosen to be part of the elite Sky Scholars programme. This brings with it a three-year package of support which extends to all aspects of her career and life.
She is extremely grateful to have such backing, explaining: "It's pretty cool to be chosen for something like that. It makes you feel that you're important and you're being looked at as an elite athlete.
"Not having to worry about costs is a big deal, especially in para sport when technology is moving all the time and you're trying to keep up with it and be as good as you can. For example, it may be chairs getting lighter and if you don't match that you're going to struggle. Chairs will always get more expensive as designs get smarter and are made of more specialist materials.
"It's also having access to other mentors and training. It helps you to look into the future because unfortunately sport isn't going to last forever, much as I'd like it to, and I'll probably one day have to get a real job. It's not something you always think about but it's nice to have people helping you to look at other avenues.
"I'm really lucky as a para-athlete to have as much support as I do. My British Athletics status will get reviewed next year and I might go up a level. That will be when the pressure to perform is on, because for that you are told where you should be in terms of performance, and if you don't achieve that your support will get cut. There is a clear expectation."
Sammi played guitar
It's clear that being a top sportsperson is a balance between being able to push yourself to the limit while enjoying incredible experiences and coping with the pressure to perform when it matters.
Such expectation could consume any young person, but fortunately Sammi has an appetite to add more strings to her bow … like learning to play the guitar.
She explained: "That's my new thing. I did music at school so I should have a basic understanding from all the times I was sitting in a classroom! I was thinking that I've got a lot of time, even when I'm away competing, and it's better than sitting at night watching the telly.
"I'm hopefully going travelling in Australia and New Zealand with my friend after the Commonwealth Games next year, which is exciting. I'll send my racing chair home with Ian and replace it with a guitar!"
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.