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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No27: Kadeena Cox

Paralympic Gold Medallist and World Champion in track cycling and athletics

Maria David Sponsored
27 Mar 2021

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photo: British Cycling

Kadeena Cox’s sporting achievements in 2015 really turned heads, as she shot to prominence by winning national and world titles in two separate sports – track cycling and athletics.

Then she catapulted her achievements to the next level at the 2016 Rio Paralympics when she won gold medals in both the 500m time-trial in the velodrome, and the 400m on the athletics track.

It is worth knowing that Kadeena did not deliberately set out to be an elite athlete in two sports. Until 2014 she was a promising sprinter in the able-bodied category at 100m and 200m.

However, her life was turned upside down that year when she suffered a stroke and was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

So Kadeena decided the best way to overcome this adverse situation in a sporting sense was by getting into cycling. She explains:

‘I was at University in Manchester, and when I got ill I couldn’t run, but I still wanted to be around elite athletes. So I would go down to the gym, and the only thing I could do was the Wattbike.

‘I looked to transfer to another sport, and my options were either canoeing or cycling. Canoeing didn’t appeal to me because I can’t swim, but cycling seemed to just fit because I was in Manchester. My power numbers were great, and so the rest was history.’

Naturally, training for two different sports is quite challenging, and Kadeena has to be very regimented and focussed in her training. Fortunately, the two sets of training teams coordinate between them to manage Kadeena’s timetable.

Just go for it. There are so many boundaries, but we have our own future in our hands and we can pave the way for ourselves and create the path that we want to see

Kadeena has had to deal with further setbacks on the way too. Last year she was out of action for a few months due to concussion after falling off her bike during training.

Furthermore, the 30-year-old from Leeds has battled eating disorders, particularly after the medication for her multiple sclerosis caused her to gain weight.

Kadeena has found that opening up about the problem has helped her, and the many athletes who subsequently reached out to her.

‘It’s still a large battle that I am facing. There are definitely ups and downs, but I’m in a much better place than I was two years ago when I first opened up about it.

‘Body image and body confidence is something that a lot of people struggle with, and as athletes we’re expected to look a certain way. There are pressures to be a certain weight, and your weight is talked about in reference to your performance.

‘Then you get into a mindset where you think your performance is not going to be good if your weight is not good. I’m working with my consultant psychiatrist, Alan Johnston, and he’s doing a great job in helping me unravel some of those thought processes and find better ways to think about things.

‘I think being open about these things, even as hard as it is, can really help someone else to not feel alone and be able to seek out the help that they need.

‘Hopefully, there is a change in attitudes, and we can step away from being so focussed on weight, which can be damaging to athletes.’

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

Keen to address the lack of diversity in cycling, Kadeena has established the KC Academy in order to encourage athletes from diverse backgrounds to get into cycling and strive to compete at elite level.

Currently the academy, supported by the Mindful Chef, is holding monthly Zoom meetings around themes such as nutrition, navigating the sport, and mindset.

‘I grew up looking at the likes of Christine Ohuruogu, Jeanette Kwaye. I always looked up to Allyson Felix, and I wanted to be her as an athlete. But in cycling I didn’t see anyone that looks like me.

‘Luckily, the way I fell into cycling I was able to jump to the top relatively quickly. But for younger athletes and grassroot athletes, there’s no one to look up to that looks like them and make them feel like they are able to achieve that. And a bike is very expensive. I had to fund raise to get my first bike.

‘It’s not the easiest sport to get into, especially track cycling as there’s not very many tracks in the country. I want to create diversity – firstly in cycling, but across the whole of the Paralympics.’

In terms of advice that Kadeena would give to young girls in ethnic minorities who may want to take up cycling as a sport, she offers the following:

‘Just go for it. There are so many boundaries, but we have our own future in our hands and we can pave the way for ourselves and create the path that we want to see.

‘If you see something that you like, just go for it. Don’t put much pressure on yourself, as pressure at a young age can be damaging. So just enjoy sport, take any opportunities available, and speak to different people.

‘There are so many people that are willing to help you on the journey. I think it’s just a case of going for the opportunities, because the sky’s the limit.’

Follow the journey of the KC Academy and its members on Instagram @k.c_academy

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.