December 2, 2021, by Habbi Liton
International Day of Persons with a Disability: Sophie Unwin
International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December 2021) is an international campaign which aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
At UoN Sport, we have decided to celebrate today by catching up with notable athletes with a disability who have been associated with University of Nottingham Sport.
In this blog, we catch up with the amazing Sophie Unwin. Sophie is an University of Nottingham Alumni, who recently won silver and bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics!
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, your sport and your achievements within that sport?
I’m a visually impaired para-cyclist, I ride a tandem that has a sighted pilot. I am the current women’s B road race World Champion. I also achieved a Bronze medal in the 3000m Individual Pursuit and a silver in the road race at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
How did you get involved with your sport?
I saw a tweet from British Cycling advertising that they were looking for a new female stoker (the visually impaired rider on the tandem) for their sprint tandem. I put forward my interest and was invited to attend a Talent ID in August 2020. That Talent ID was my first time riding a tandem and riding a track. From my performance that day it was clear that I was not a sprinter but the coaches at British Cycling thought I might have potential as an endurance rider and I joined their foundation program. They gave me a training plan and in May 2021 I took part in my first race.
Can you please describe some of the challenges you’ve faced in your sport and how you’ve been able to overcome or deal with them?
Training while working full time was definitely a challenge, there were a lot of early mornings to fit training in before my work day started and staying motivated for a 3 hour ride at 5am could be tough. I had to work out fairly quickly whether I preferred training before or after work. I found the key to staying motivated to get out of bed and onto the bike was to keep in mind the reason I was dong it and what I was working towards. Another challenge has been living so far away from British Cycling’s base in Manchester, which is also where my pilot lives. This means I don’t get as much time riding on the tandem as I would like. This means we have to make the most of every opportunity we get to ride together.
Can you please describe your experience with sport at university: My time at university introduced me to Parasport, I had never really considered sports as something for me before this. During my first term at the university my disability support officer put me in touch with Nottinghamshire Sheriffs Goalball Club, I had never previously heard of goalball and wasn’t sure what to expect but I found a great sport with a great group of people. It was actually through one of the people I met at Nottingham goalball club that I saw the tweet from British Cycling, so I would not be doing what I am now if it wasn’t for playing goalball at university.
What is your best memory from sport at the University?
We held a friendly University of Nottingham vs. Nottingham Trent goalball game, it was great fun as the club had members from both universities so we all knew each other and got on really well. Even though UoN lost it was a lot of fun.
What do you feel was most instrumental to your success?
The entire team at British Cycling, every single person at British Cycling was so welcoming to me and each of them helped me in some way. There’s so many people that go into helping an athlete achieve their best, from coaches to support staff, and I of course have to shout out my amazing pilot Jenny, I literally couldn’t do it without her.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to any young athletes, specifically those with disabilities?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or try something new! Ask questions of your coaches, support staff and other athletes. There can be unique challenges that arise in training or competing for disabled athletes and other disabled athletes may have insights that can help you out, so don’t be afraid to ask. Trying something new could be a new way of training, or a different style of competing, or even in my case trying a totally new sport. We can get stuck thinking we know what works for us, but sometimes changing it up can bring huge gains.
Get Involved at UoN Sport
We have been working with a number of sports and clubs at the University, to develop their offer for students with disabilities, long term or mental health conditions. You can out more about our inclusive sport sessions here.
Photo credit: SWpix
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