Hannah Cockroft is opening Naidex on day one, 28 April, at 11am in the Multidisciplinary Theatre. 

Cockroft will give a short talk about her experience as Paralympic World Champion and Record holder – she is a T34 Paralympic wheelchair racer and holds the Paralympic World Record for the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres. She is a Double World Champion, Double European Champion and also won two gold medals for ParalympicsGB at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London.

 Hannah was kind enough to answer a few questions ahead of her appearance at Naidex.

You do a lot of work with young people; how does it feel to be an inspiration to so many?

I still find it weird to be called an inspiration. Wheelchair racing is a hobby for me and I’m incredibly lucky that it’s also my job; a job I really enjoy.

If people can draw inspiration from my experience, that’s fantastic, but it’s not why I go out and race. I race because I want to do well, for me. If that helps inspire others and encourage them to take up racing, then that is fantastic.

What do you feel needs to be done to raise awareness of disability in the media and keep the Paralympics visible? 

What the Paralympics needs is for the media to keep its focus on the sport. 2012 was an incredible experience with one of us Paralympians in the newspapers every day throughout the Paralympics, which has never happened before. We need to keep that focus going and get the TV crews attending and covering our events, such as the next big competition, which is the World Championships in October.

We find that when people watch Paralympic sports, they are interested – and as you watch you learn what disabled people can do, rather than focus on the limited things they can’t do. It’s important to keep that attention.

More generally, I find accessibility to be one of the biggest issues faced by the disabled community. I always have problems with access – and I may get into trouble for saying what I think, but I also think we have to express such views as it’s the only way forward. We need to let the people in charge know there’s a problem – because there isn’t anyone in Government in a wheelchair. So I don’t think they realise how inaccessible the world can be.

I’d like to encourage everyone who experiences some of the issues I face to say what they think on Twitter, write a letter or get on radio or TV, but it needs to be addressed. Life isn’t always easy for disabled people, there is a problem, and with a little bit of support and improved accessibility, a lot of lives could be improved.

Also, with a higher profile, people with different disabilities will become more accepted in public life and within mainstream society. Plus more people will be admired for their achievements, regardless of their disability.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?  

The best advice I’ve ever had was from my coach. He told me I had to grow a thick skin and stop listening to other people’s judgements about me, telling me what I can and can’t do. I previously lived my life based too much on what others thought, rather than be the person I wanted to be.

But worrying less about everyone else’s opinion has helped me as a person, and helped me on the track. There can be difficult comments when you’re a Paralympian – if you’re winning, it’s sometimes suggested that it’s the equipment that’s better, rather than personal skill. It’s rare for someone to ever admit you’re quite good at what you do, and much easier for people to find other reasons. But my coach helped me realise that success was down to my hard work. So I go out every day to prove everyone else wrong.