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    Get back on, go on

    My name is Katie Toft*. I am a C1 Para-cyclist born with Cerebral Palsy (C1 relates to the category I race in, C1 being the ‘most disabled’ you can be on a standard road bike), which makes moving around and day-to-day tasks difficult. Basic tasks such as walking, talking, or carrying a drink are tricky – don’t ask me for a brew if you want a full cup! 

    Spatial awareness and Cerebral Palsy just don’t fit. I’ve lived in the same house my whole life and still walk into things daily, usually hitting a shoulder on a door frame. 

    Just sitting can be painful – I’m sat writing this and my right hip is starting to scream at me. To be fair, it has not been happy since Autumn – hurting, aching, and spasming every day. Cycling has stopped it seizing up, but it won’t improve until it’s warm again. As soon as the weather is cold, a lot of people with Cerebral Palsy struggle – it’s not that they can’t do stuff, it’s just harder. 

    So, with the above in mind, I wasn’t really the obvious choice when it came to being picked for team sports at school. I wasn’t very good at the usual activities such as catching a ball, running or netball (except rounders I’ve got a mean whack!). 

    However, whenever I saw my peers riding bikes and scooters around the village where I live, I  thought, ‘I want a bit of that.’ When I first tried to ride a bike, dad and I went to practice at the school playground. We even went to the cricket pitch where my grandad was groundsman, which ended up being a whole family affair. I fell off repeatedly and got so frustrated with it. My grandad tried his best to encourage me. He’d say, “Get back on, go on.” 

     The bike stayed in the garage until one day, I decided I wasn’t going to let it beat me. Yes, I still fell off, but eventually, I learnt how to balance. As I grew in confidence, so did my route around the village. Little did I know I had started to time trial, racing myself against the clock, something that I am now very familiar with. I went on to be one of the first people in the UK to do their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award on a bike. 

    I’m sad to say this wasn’t my ultimate turning point as my bike took to the garage once again. As I went through college and university, I became very unfit, with poor habits both nutritionally and in my lifestyle. Until one day, I decided that I didn’t really enjoy feeling unfit anymore so whilst home for the weekend I got my old bike out and went for a pedal.

    My dad found that the local disabled charity, which I used to be a member of, now had a wheelers group. I started to go to their weekly session just to ride around at first but quickly got involved in the mini-races. Eventually, I started to beat the boys (who weren’t happy!) and from there, they suggested that I might like to try racing properly and join a cycling team. 

    Initially, it was hard to find a team as nobody really knew how to support a disabled rider, but eventually, I started to train with Mossley CRT and first raced for them in 2013. 

    Fast forward a few years… 

    I won my first national title in 2016, first World Championship in 2018 and from then, I have continued to work hard and compete at the highest level. I have recently won four world titles (I have 9 now in total) and gained a world record as part of the Great British Paracycling team at the Paracycling Track World Championships in Paris. 

    I now race for Storey Racing, the hard work continues and the world of elite sport is definitely not plain sailing, particularly for C1. We are quite a rare bunch who must overcome so many obstacles on a daily basis (and that’s before we even get on a bike or in the gym). We are basically a group of athletes, all disabled, all outstanding at their sport, but for some, walking and talking doesn’t come with ease. 

    * The Equilibrium Foundation provides sponsorship to Katie, most recently paying for new wheels for her specialist bike. 


    Article of interest: 

    Why are girls dropping out of sport and what can be done about it? 


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