8 September 2020

London 2012: A Diary by Hannah Dines

11 months to go

“I wanted to slam jaeger bombs in celebration just like my friends” isn’t a good answer to what inspired you most about beginning your sport but was the truth for me, for a while. It’s the kind of answer which inspires the next generation but in the wrong way.

The London 2012 Paralympics had reached a year to go and the fabric of the universe was feeling the potential energy so much that it wrinkled slightly in anticipation

Meanwhile, I was looking for a way to socialise more thoroughly which, for Scottish first year university students, means finding excuses to drink in excess. One of the best reasons was Wednesday sports afternoons. Independent of if you had won or lost or even turned up to your match, you and your club would head to the local bar and settle the score with cheap alcohol.

Like everyone who knows nothing about boats I assumed rowing was arm dominant. No one will even see my hopeless legs I thought… it’s done sitting down I thought… falling off into water is a soft landing… I thought. It was all going swimmingly, until I was banned for health and safety reasons. The swimming test was the special Olympic version or something, blah, blah which I knew I couldn’t complete.

For a girl who was never allowed in a single one of her PE lessons since the age of five for those same health and safety reasons, to the extent she had considered attaching a fire extinguisher to the back of her walking frame, setting it off in the gym hall and letting them see how dangerous she really could be, I had had enough of the reasons they give when they don’t want you on the team.

2 months to go

I stomped off back home for my summer holidays to the rowing centre near Glasgow which is set up for Para-rowing. No, there are no classifications for cerebral palsy they say. I volunteer at a local charity in the office, doing spreadsheets that made me fall asleep. I decided I might get my old trike out of the basement. I get to work so drenched in sweat and so exhausted they suggest that maybe I don’t do that. I can’t hold my feet up in the toe clip pedals, and they drag on the pavement, ruining my shoes.

Secretly my mum phones British Cycling headquarters - she asks them if there are any races for her daughter who rides a tricycle, yes her daughter has ridden the tricycle all her life and never seen another person ride one at all. Though there is female trike racing there has never been a British female trike racer and to get a Paralympic medal you have to beat the men.

The universe boils and spits in anger at this betrayal

1 month to go

My task is to look through all the magazines and write down which ones mention the name of the charity. I get side-tracked reading an article about Gavin Drysdale- what is that he is riding… is it a tricycle… a plane… a bird? I email the contact given and Gavin’s mum explains it isn’t a trike, it’s a RaceRunner, and I live quite close to the athletics club that they drive an hour and a half to every week.

Hannah (right) takes part in her first RaceRunning event, September 2012

27 days to go

The Olympics are underway. I think I watch the diving with a tiny Tom Daley. I try a RaceRunner and decide that this is what has been missing in my life. I say in my first email about it “I think I could go forever on this thing”. Thanks for The Warm-Up, the Channel 4 billboards say.

The universe tears and changes forever

It’s on TV. My sister has watched all of the Superhuman documentaries. Despite growing up with me she has now and only now decided to become inspired by disabled people. She makes me watch the Lee Pearson documentary. I end up really liking Lee. I get her back by reminding her of the time she refused to get on her horse the first time even though I loved mine and we had to stop going. I also remind her the only thing my disability has given her is a fear of leg surgery and hospitals.

You know when you want something so badly that it hurts to look at it. I had wanted it for a long time but I didn’t know how to get it. That’s what I felt when I watched any Para athletics because I didn’t see anyone who moved like me, I saw exactly what I wanted and no way to get it. The RaceRunner had given me the feeling but of course it wasn’t a Paralympic event.

The universe sees that I have turned a blind eye and puts its head in its hands

Para athletics has been and gone and I don’t know who Hannah Cockroft is, or Richard Whitehead or David Weir. I get invites to attend RaceRunning races in September and get a little shiver of excitement, which I ignore but I say I will go anyway. Gavin has a walking frame like I did at school and Kayleigh has upgraded to a wheelchair. In my competition I am so far behind them both that I have to remind myself that they are 11 and 13. It makes no difference. Yes, I check the feeling, it is still there… and is it growing? I think it’s love. Gavin and Kayleigh move like me and they are my people, even if they are half a minute ahead. If only I can just catch up.

1 day till the closing ceremony

David Stone wins gold in the T2 mixed tricycle road race. It isn’t filmed or on mainstream TV and I won’t know he exists till 2 years later. My mum says nothing about the phone call she made to British Cycling. The trike is banished to the basement.

The universe sighs in despair

Day of the closing ceremony

My mum drops me back off at university. I get to loan my RaceRunner and it goes to live at a nearby athletics track. I learn to drive specifically so I can drive to the athletics track.

A year later

Kayleigh is still beating me but not by much. I’ve managed to catch Gavin once or twice. British Cycling’s new Road@Rio manager sends round an email to all universities looking for female cyclists with a disability. Unbeknownst to me, in 2013 Paracycling have announced two new medal events: a women’s road race and time trial for trike racing.

The universe collapses over backwards with the effort it took to get me there

I call up my mum and say maybe we have to get my trike out the basement and rest is history…

Two years after that

Hannah Dines competes at the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Hannah competes at Rio 2016


I think London 2012 changed the fabric of society so fundamentally that even the most dismissive of us couldn’t avoid it.

I truly hope that if I am ever on TV (Tokyo in 2021 would be the first year the female trike race is broadcast on Channel 4) there won’t be a little girl too full of resentment to watch it. She’ll be too tired from getting all her swimming badges at the proper age.

The respect and admiration many of the British public have for Paralympians is unparalleled which means inclusion, in case of the absence of a disability club, is second to none. And if all else fails contact your local Paralympian and bother them until they set you up. It’s the least we can do!

You can search for activities that are right for you at parasport.org.uk

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