Lauren Steadman, 27, is an elite swimmer and triathlete having represented Great Britain in three Paralympic Games and she’s set to take part in a fourth in Tokyo next summer.
She also took part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2018 reaching the semi-finals and recently competed on SAS: Who Dares Wins which is airing on Channel 4 now (May 2020).
Here she shares how she became a Paralympian, switching from swimming to triathlons and what she’s learned so far.
Explaining how she got into swimming, Lauren said: “At primary school, when I was in Year 6, a teacher asked if anyone wanted to represent the school at swimming championships. I put myself forward.
“The ex-head of disabled swimming was there. She said come and do your levels with me. I got spotted at my first disability swimming programme.”
Her career began from ‘taking that chance, putting my hand up’ when she was just 11.
Lauren explained how finding her talent for swimming changed how others saw her: “Since I was a little girl I have been very driven to be part of things and to fit in. When I was a kid I would be picked last for the sports team. They then saw me as an equal. I saw it as being accepted.”
Making a choice
By the time Lauren was 12 she was representing her country in swimming and was just 14 at her first Paralympic Games.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a vet,” Lauren said. “When I was at primary school I had lots of pets at home. But when I found the world of sport I had a bit of skill there.
“If you want to be a vet you have to do physics, chemistry and biology. It’s just not easy to do that when you’re training to be an athlete.”
She told us how important it is to her to inspire others to believe they can achieve their goals.
“After London, people were so excited about the Paralympics. It has opened people up to the world of disability sport and how inspiring it can be,” Lauren said.
“I have one arm missing so there is not much I can’t do in my life, but I watch people with no arms swimming. There really is no excuse if you want something you really can go and get it.”
Strictly and SAS
She thinks the London 2012 Paralympics has changed people’s perception of disability and coverage of the sports on national television has helped.
Since then Lauren has appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2018, reaching the semi-finals with AJ Pritchard, and more recently she took part in SAS: Who Dares Wins.
“TV shows are starting to embrace Paralympians,” Lauren said.
“Strictly, I’ve watched it since I was little so I jumped at the chance but I was very, very nervous. There is no shying away from having no arm and on TV.
“AJ got on board with what I was trying to do, inspiring a generation. I got messages from parents with kids with disabilities and older people with disabilities who thought well if she can do that I can go to the shop. I made a difference which is what I set out to do.”
SAS: Who Dares Wins was more of a challenge, as contestants are pushed to their limits physically and mentally by ex-special forces soldiers.
“With SAS I got to really push the boundaries,” Lauren said. “I have never abseiled, and it was running down the side of a cliff or submerging myself into cold water.”
As well as taking on the challenges of Strictly and SAS, Lauren has a strict training regime in preparation for international competitions.
Talking us through her day-to-day training, Lauren said: “It normally consists of about two to five hours of training, plus physio, nutrition and gym sessions.
“I split my time between the UK and Lanzarote. It is more of an aggressive environment and you’ve got the low winds for the bike, so it gives you something extra behind the training you do.”
She explained that choosing a career in elite sports is a big commitment, but for her, it’s worth it.
“It is a massive lifestyle choice,” Lauren said. “You can’t just eat what you want. It is learning to have control over what you eat.”
Lauren also works with her sponsors and on projects to help people get involved in sport to get healthy and tackle obesity.
Competing at the top
Lauren shared what it’s like to compete at the top level.
“You feel really honoured. Not many people in the world get to put on a Paralympic or Olympic kit.
“If you win a medal and thousands of people at home are watching to do so well, it is the cherry on the cake. You have worked for four years when you’re training and then when you cross the finish line and you delivered what you wanted you think ‘is it real?’”
But her advice to budding athletes is: “It takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day. They say it takes 10,000 hours of training or 10 years to go to the Olympics or Paralympics.
“You do not get the classic university life, going out and that, but you travel the world and meet new people in this world you are part of. I love it.”
Lauren explained it hasn’t always been easy. She had a period of frustration when she couldn’t cut her 100m freestyle swim time.
“I had four years that I did not get a faster time, it was soul-destroying but I stuck with it,” Lauren said.
“As a swimmer, between the Bejing (2008) and London (2012) Paralympics, I could not break 1 min 6 seconds for 100m freestyle. In training, I would be tearing it up and training hard. When it came to breaking that time I just couldn’t do it. It took four years. It was my own personal goal.”
At the London Paralympics, she achieved 1.05.98.
“I just broke through that barrier,” she said. “When you work so hard for something, you finally do achieve it.”
Making a change
It was after the London Paralympics that Lauren decided to pursue triathlon, a mix of swimming, running and cycling. Her uncle was a triathlete and had persuaded Lauren to give it a try.
On trying a new sport, Lauren said: “It’s not that you aren’t good at something, you’re just better at something else. It doesn’t make you a failure.
“I realised I was an all-rounder, but I thought, do I keep going down this road? I felt like I was betraying my swimming career.
“It’s having a belief that change is good. I love my triathlons. It is something I will do for a long time.”
Making a change was clearly the right choice. Lauren is a two-time Paratriathlon world champion and six-time European champion.
In the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Lauren won her first Paralympic medal; silver in the Paratriathlon. She’ll be going for gold at the Toyko Games.
Lauren has been training for the 2020 Toyko Paralympics which have now been postponed to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was putting everything into the Games this year. They are now next year so I have got to reevaluate everything.”
As well as preparing for the now postponed Paralympics, Lauren has her sights on other ventures.
“There is so much I want to achieve,” the athlete said. “I do have goals outside sport.
“I have a degree in psychology and business, I would like to do something with that.”
Do what sets your soul on fire
On what she’d tell her younger self, Lauren said: “Always do what makes you happy and excites you the most. Too many people do a job or play a sport because they feel they have to instead of that it sets your soul on fire. And do it for yourself. My parents never pushed it on me.
“I would say always remain positive in what you’re capable of.
“Things do not always come straight away. The stuff you really want to do will take time and will be hard work but it will come. Get your head down and work hard, It does pay off.”
To find out more about Lauren Steadman and her achievements, visit: laurensteadman.co.uk