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Cyclist Sarah Bailey Storey was the first Team GB Paralympian to win gold in the 2012 London Games and went on to win three more, including two on the road at Brands Hatch in Kent.

This means that she now has 11 gold medals from Paralympic games, equalling the coveted record of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson but fewer then the original paralympian record holder Mike Kenny‘s 16.

Before I get to her story, however, here is an update on 7/7 survivor Martine Wright and her sitting volleyball team. On September 6, they lost 3-0 to Japan, but Wright had this to say about competing in her home city, London:

I’m going to take a few weeks off and see what happens, but I absolutely love this sport. The atmosphere is amazing, you can’t describe it in words.

Sarah Storey also loves the crowds:

We knew from the Olympics that the atmosphere would be unlike anything else we have experienced and even though I have competed at a packed Manchester Velodrome at a World Cup I was slightly apprehensive. Large crowds bring their own pressure and can sometimes be a little intimidating for not used to them. In the event it was so friendly and encouraging to all the competitors, a total inspiration. It was like coming home, it felt like we were all one extended family.

The other thing that nothing can prepare you for about a ‘home’ games is standing on the podium and listening to the entire stadium singing the national anthem. I have been privileged to travel the world through my love of sport – swimming and cycling – and have been lucky enough to win gold medals and stand on top of the podium but always in some corner of the world where there might be a small pocket of supporters and GB staff singing along. To hear the entire velodrome singing God Save The Queen was just thrilling and very emotional.

Storey was born with a left hand which lacks function. Whilst she was still in the womb, it got caught in the umbilical cord.

A young Sarah Bailey made her name in sports as a swimmer. She first competed in Barcelona in 2002, where she came away with bronze, silver and gold medals — six altogether — at the age of 15. She won more in Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). During her swimming career, she had won five gold, eight silver and three bronze medals.

In 2005, she suffered an ear infection which was serious enough to cause her to look for another sport in which to compete.  The year before, she met cyclist Barney Storey, who had piloted a tandem bike in the Athens Paralympics. He encouraged her to switch to cycling — incidentally, a transformation which Olympian gold medal winner Laura Trott also made.

In 2007, Sarah Bailey became Sarah Storey. She credits her husband Barney for teaching her all about cycling excellence:

Barney is at the centre of my world obviously, his expertise in cycling is just phenomenal. He’s been a tandem pilot, an able bodied solo sprinter who has ridden World Cup events and he was an elite road racer with his brother. He has an immense knowledge in the sport and when I came along – a big broad shouldered swimmer – he just taught me everything I know.

We watched the Tour de France together and the Olympic track competition and he is always there in the background at races and training telling me what was good, what I can improve and where I can go forward. You cannot ask for more support than that. I am so lucky.

This year, on September 1, both Storeys won gold medals on the same day at the Velodrome.

Controversy continues about how much crossover should occur by Paralympians to able-bodied competition. As Storey’s hand is her only impediment:

She qualified to join the England team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she was “the first disabled cyclist to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games”, against non-disabled cyclists.[10] She was also the second paralympic athlete overall competing for England at the Games, following archer Danielle Brown earlier in Delhi.[11]

In 2011, she was competing for one of the three places in the GB squad for the women’s team pursuit at the 2012 Olympic Games. Although she was in the winning team for the World Cup event in Cali, Colombia in December 2011,[12] she was informed afterwards that she was being dropped from the team pursuit squad.[13]

The Telegraph explains:

It was agonisingly close – in November last year she was a member of a GB team that rode the second-fastest time in history up to that moment, but the competition was fierce and the GB trio of Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King went on to win gold at a canter, breaking the world record in all three rides.

Storey described what she experiences as a cyclist (emphases mine):

With just two laps of the track the starts in the 500m time-trial in the C4-C5 categories are a major challenge for the majority of us. Without getting too technical, starting is all about power and balance and trying to combine the two from a standing start when the bike is inherently unstable anyway. Doing that effectively with one hand, not two, is not at all easy and it is something I have worked on constantly in my career.

It’s an explosive moment and there is a lot going on during those early seconds. Obviously it would be easier if you had two fully functioning hands because you need to be able to lean a long way forward over your front wheel to generate the real power and you then need to be able to stand tall and balanced to put in those big pedal strokes to get you to top speed.

Only then do you get to sit down in your optimum riding position and once I get there, normally at the end of the first back straight, life is simpler and the second lap of the race is always strong for me.

To get away as fast as possible I basically wedge my left hand in the handlebars and try and set myself and transfer the power that way. Ever since Beijing myself and other riders with similar disabilities have been allowed to attach a small hoop on the handle bars to rest what should be your left hand but we are not allowed to go too high tech.

For very good safety reasons a rider and bike must be able to separate in the case of crashes and accidents so a more elaborate, stronger arrangement is not allowed.

It’s those first three or four big revolutions out of the starting gate that are the most difficult because the bike is unstable anyway and you are looking to generate huge amounts of power.

I just concentrate on keeping the bike straight, making it as smooth as possible and getting around that first bend after which the speed starts coming through and it becomes a little easier …

Paralympians put a lot of time and effort into their sport. Today, some train with Olympians. Channel 4 interviewed several Olympians who said that the Paralympians train harder on some days at a pace even they — Olympians — find tiring.

There is so much we can learn from their example and apply to our own lives as Christians in the non-sporting realm.

Imagine how we could transform the world.

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