For Team GB Paralympic athlete Sophia Warner, having cerebral palsy hasn’t fazed her in her athletic career – but it has made for some surprising moments as a mother.
“I know it sounds silly but I don’t notice it at all [in my sport]. I’m sure there are times it’s affected me but I couldn’t name them. As a mum though, it’s been difficult. When the kids were babies, having the use of one hand was hard. No one warned me you couldn’t change a nappy with one hand!”
The 37-year-old sprinter’s events at this year’s Paralympic Games in August are the T35 100m and 200m. T35 is the class which marks her level of disability: as a result of having cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her motor control, both her legs and her left arm are paralysed. In her event and class, she is currently ranked number one in Europe and number two in the world.
But despite her impressive athletic CV, Sophia says being a mum to her two children, Lucca, seven, and Felix, six, is what has really made her stand out in these games.
“There are so many athletes in the Paralympic and Olympic Games but I’m the only mum I know who’s competing.”
For Sophia, being a mum and athlete are the two most important things in her life, which led to her making a tough call and taking a sabbatical from her job as a successful marketing manager.
“It was the right thing to do – it was a big decision. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t done it. I was extremely run down. Now I’m getting more rest and I’m able to spend my days off with my family, whereas before I spent my rest days at the office. I figured, I’m a mature athlete and [these games are] my last chance; I have one good crack at this!”
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Having a supportive family has been key to her success as part of Team GB and she said she wouldn’t have been able to get where she is without her support system.
“My husband Hayden has been such a huge help for me. None of this would be possible without him. I only do one school run a day but I couldn’t do both!”
And while the sacrifices she’s made to achieve her goals have been felt by her family, she says in the long run, she thinks her choices will be a benefit to her children.
“Being a professional athlete has been a really hard thing to do – I miss out on a lot of stuff with my kids. And you can look at the negatives, but I think it’s worth it. My children are exposed to sport every day – when they come to the track they don’t get bored: they actually enjoy watching the events. I have less time to do normal ‘mum’ things but I have more time to do fun things.”
Her resilience and dedication to her sport have had a lasting impact on her children.
“My story is how to live the dream. They have seen how enjoyable competitive sports are. I’m sure they will have a desire someday to follow in my footsteps.”
Sophia says she’s come a long way since she began training eight years ago, and now she’s the only Paralympic athlete in her event to be able to start out of the blocks.
“During one of my first races, I remember they told us to start and I couldn’t even get up. I know how far I’ve come to be able to start out of these blocks. It’s such a confidence boost – makes me think anything is possible. It puts me in a different league, like I’ve conquered my disability mentally. It doesn’t make me faster but it makes me feel fantastic. I know what I’ve overcome to get here.”
Sophia, who was named 'Disabled Sports Personality of the Year' in 2010, is one of 43 Paralympic athletes on the UK Athletics World Class Performance Programme (WCPP), which supports elite athletes in their preparation for the 2012 Games. Currently, she trains for six hours, six days a week. That’s two hours of strength training, two hours of speed work and two hours of cardio.
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Her diet is also strictly controlled: “I have a great diet but I’m very rigid with it. It’s high protein and I take vitamins (I’m a bit drained as a mum). I eat three meals a day and two proteins shakes.”
And while a regimented diet and strict workout schedule are necessary for an elite athlete, Sophia says a healthy lifestyle is something everyone in her family takes part in.
“Being active is a way of life for our family. My husband is a huge sports fan and my kids are big into sports too. They play school sports like rugby and my husband enjoys windsurfing. We go to the gym together as a family on the weekends and after school.”
So what do her two boys think about their world record-holding mum competing in the Paralympic Games?
“My kids are excited but they don’t really understand the scale of the events – they see everything as win or lose. When I came back from the World Championships with a silver medal, my son said, ‘Why didn’t you win?’.”
But Sophia isn’t one to be deterred easily. As an attractive, well-spoken mother of two, most able-bodied athletes in her position would have an easy time getting sponsorship. But as a Paralympian, she had to be creative in order to get the backing she needed.
“I sought out P&G and pitched myself as both a mother and a competitive athlete – something that made me unique. One thing led to another, and here I am.”Sophia is now a P&G Thank You, Mum ambassador, which aims to highlight the role that mums and families play in raising high-achieving athletes.
And Warner says there’s no better time to be an athlete in the UK.
“It’s a very exciting time for me. This is the best time to be an athlete in this country. It’s the home games, we’ve got a higher profile and so many people behind us – never before have we had this many fans.”
At the heart of Team Mum is the video series Raising an Olympian, sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, profiling athletes from across the world, their dedicated efforts to make it to Olympic Games, and the mothers who had tremendous impacts on their lives. Watch the videos on Yahoo! Lifestyle Team Mum.