At Harper Macleod we're lucky to have double World Champion wheelchair racer Samantha ‘Sammi’ Kinghorn as our Athlete Ambassador. Sammi will once again represent Scotland when the Commonwealth Games take place in Australia's Gold Coast in April. Before getting on the plane this week, she shared her excitement about finally making it to Oz, and not just for the honour of flying the Saltire for her country – there's also the holiday of a lifetime and maybe even the chance to help the country's sheep population …
After a week which saw her partly marooned in her parents' farm in the Scottish Borders, seven-foot snowdrifts curtailing her long pushes on the local roads, Sammi Kinghorn is finally on her way to the Gold Coast. A long flight lay ahead, with a dauntingly long bus-trip at the end before she and the rest of Team Scotland reach their base on the sun-drenched Queensland Coast, but what lies at the end of it will be well worth the trip.
Not only will Scotland's double World Champion get the chance to wear the Scotland vest, but with one of her closest friends she'll follow that up with a couple of months experiencing the highlights of a country she's long dreamed of visiting.
Sammi took time out of packing her bags to look ahead to what lies ahead in Oz, and what her hopes and fears are for the second Commonwealth Games of her career.
Sammi popped into the Harper Macleod offices to show off her Team Scotland kit (in front of a mural of her in action on our walls!)
She said: "Ever since I was young I've always wanted to go to Australia. To get that chance while also representing Scotland is brilliant and it's also great that I'm going to get to spend a fair amount of time there after the Games are over. I've been lucky to go to a number of countries over the past four years but normally it's to a holding camp, which may not be in the same country, then you fly in and fly out for the competition. I've not had a long break like this before so it will be great to actually have a bit of time to see the country.
"I actually always wanted to go there to do some lambing. There was a guy who used to come to our farm to do lambing who was originally from New Zealand, but he used to travel around doing lambing there, in Australia and over here. I think hearing about it just made me want to go there, and I know my Dad has always wanted to go too so it's been implanted in me.
"Who knows, I'm gutted to be missing out on the lambing season in Scotland because the Games are taking place so early in the year. Maybe I'll get a chance to try my hand at lambing on my holiday!"
The weather finally relented last week – Sammi's dad Neill had been out in the fields literally walking over the field gates to get to the sheep such was the depth of snow – and as the lambing season got into full flow Sammi made it back to Glasgow to join the team flight.
We've made two short films with Sammi on her favourite Australian things.
Sammi's Aussie Top 10
Sammi's Kylie or Jason?
Pushing her limits
Unlike most of her other major events, the Commonwealth Games sees Sammi forced out of her usual sprint events and into the longer distances – this time the 1500m and, incredibly for a 100m world champion, the marathon.
She'll also be competing against athletes who come under the T54 classification, which means they have more physical capacity than those in Sammi's own T53 classification.
Sammi is willing to overcome these obstacles to have the chance to represent Scotland, but it does mean that it shouldn't be assumed she's going to rock up and take home some medals. For the watching British public, who may have only seen Sammi winning and aren't perhaps aware of the intricacies of para sport and its classifications, the expectation level will understandably be high.
While she's keen not to disappoint, Sammi knows all too well the challenge which faces her and where possible takes the time to put things in perspective.
She explained: "I do try to point it out to people, partly because I don't want people to be overly disappointed if it doesn't happen and partly so that the pressure doesn't become too much. I'm just happy to be going to compete for my country but I've no idea what the outcome is going to be. It's a bit like any race I suppose, though clearly now in my favoured events there's an expectation that I'm going to be competing for the medals.
"People might assume I'm the favourite because they've seen me win gold medals but I do try to explain that it's not my main discipline. I'm aiming for the final in the 1500m and to be competitive in the marathon and we'll see how it goes.
"I have recurring nightmares about getting a puncture, especially in the marathon. It's a horrible thought because there's nothing you can do – you're allowed help to try and fix it but the time you would lose would be critical. In my dreams it happens when I'm sprinting for the finish, or I've just set off. It's really horrible, like one of those dreams when you're falling. I suppose it's just a fear of failing because of something you can't really control. But all I can do is make sure my chair is fine when the gun goes and after that you can't do anything more."
Back to the future – four years on
Of course, as well as another chance to represent her country, the Games also represent the start of Sammi's second four-year cycle of international competition. The Glasgow 2014 Games were her first big international event and since then she's done them all – Europeans, Worlds and Paralympics. Now she's back where she began, though things are just a little different than before.
Sammi said: "I'm very surprised by how it's all progressed so quickly. I genuinely wasn't expecting it at all and my long term goal was to challenge for a medal in Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. That was the aim from the start.
"Nothing has changed in terms of how I enjoy the sport and training and things. In some ways I want it even more because I enjoy winning so much that I want to experience that feeling again. But the training and effort that you have to put in, the commitment, is a lot more than I realised it would back when I was starting. Having said that, I don't find it hard, day in and day out to do what I'm doing.
"When I just started I thought that it was going to be more of a hobby, though that's not quite the right word. Glasgow 2014 came along that was incredible and I loved every moment of it but still, even at Glasgow, I didn't really understand that I'd be able to do this day in and out and that I'd be supported in a way that made that possible.
"If you're not in the sport you're not really aware of the funding levels and if you can live as an athlete, especially when you're just 17. I was thinking I'd have to go to university at some point or do something else as well as continue to compete. It's great that I don’t have to combine that will something else at this time.
"I love what I do, it's so much fun, but I never expected this to genuinely become my career."
She may still only be 22, with a long career ahead, but talk of four-year cycles turned the conversation to the future. Sammi has already looked ahead, and while wheelchair racers are renowned for being able to compete well into their 30s, she has an idea of just how long she sees herself competing for, and what lies beyond.
She said: "I'm hoping to make it until I'm 32, when the LA Paralympics take place in 2028. There are other things I might want to do, having a family for one. I don't think I'd want to be away all the time if I do have a family. Then there's your career after competition to consider.
"If you want to make sport you career after you finish, you probably want to stop at the highest possible level. It just seems natural that you're going to be given more opportunities if you're still in the limelight and being recognised, and I don't think it would take long for your profile to drop. There are always so many more young athletes coming along to take your place!"
For now Sammi remains firmly in the spotlight and ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
- Sammi's first race of the Games is the 1500m on 9 April. The 1500m final takes places the next day, with the marathon on the final day of competition, 15 April.
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.