World Para-Athletics Championships: Libby Clegg on motherhood and Dancing On Ice


Clegg holds the world records for both the T11 100m (11.91 secs) and 200m (24.51)
World Para-Athletics Championships
Venue: Dubai Club for People of Determination, Dubai Dates: 7-15 November

Libby Clegg likes a challenge.

Win Paralympic gold? She’s done that twice. Break world records? No problem. Dancing On Ice? Already signed up.

Yet perhaps her biggest challenge is about to be ticked off. On 12 November, she will return to the international athletics stage – exactly 214 days after the traumatic birth of her son, which resulted in an emergency caesarean.

“I think this is a bigger achievement than any of those medals,” she says.

The World Para-Athletics Championships got under way in Dubai on Thursday, with Clegg – who won T11 100m and 200m gold at Rio 2016 – set to compete over the longer distance as well as the universal 4x100m relay.

It is the first time the 29-year-old Scot will have been in action at a major competition since the Paralympics three years ago – a mix of mental health issues, guide injuries and then pregnancy meaning she has raced just seven times since.

Clegg has, therefore, tempered expectations. Reaching the semi-finals is her aim; anything else a bonus.

“I’m intrigued to see where I am at in comparison to everybody else,” she tells BBC Sport. “No-one has really seen me since Rio, and I’m interested in what kind of shape other athletes are in.

“I’ve really got no expectations. It will give me a good baseline moving forward to Tokyo next year.”

‘My body feels alien’ – balancing motherhood and training

Clegg and her fiance Dan Powell, a judo Paralympian who competed at London 2012, welcomed baby Edward in April.

Both parents are visually impaired – Clegg having Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, a deteriorating eye condition that gives her only slight peripheral vision in her left eye. Nappy changes, she says, can be fun.

“Motherhood is completely life-changing,” she says. “I’m fortunate in that he’s a good baby – he’s really calm, he sleeps well.

“Initially, we had lots of worries and concerns about how we were going to parent. For me, it was stuff along the lines of if he got a rash, whether I would notice.

“But we’ve just got on with things. It’s just the same sort of concerns every parent has, regardless of whether you’ve got a disability or not.”

Despite Edward’s difficult birth, two weeks after his due date, Clegg returned to training little more than four weeks later. There was no running at first, more balance and stability work as her body – a “little bit sore” following her C-section – adapted to new pressures.

“My body isn’t my own any more; it feels completely different and really alien,” she says. “It has gradually got better as the weeks have gone on. I’m improving, but your priorities change.

“My priority is my son but when I’m at training, I want to be as focused as possible so that when I’ve finished, I know I’ve done it properly because that is time I have taken away from my son when I could be at home.”

Dubai first, then Tokyo

Clegg, the T12 100m world champion in 2011, will be leaving Edward behind with his dad and grandmother when she flies to Dubai – a “new challenge I will have to overcome”.

Temperatures in the Emirati city are expected to be easily above 30C with high humidity levels, but Clegg – who will be guided by Tom Somers – feels she is prepared for what is to come.

“I’m a bit of a nightmare. Nobody likes sharing a room with me because I always turn the air conditioning off so I get used to the heat quicker,” she says.

“And I always layer up when I am in air conditioned areas to keep my body temperature up.”

Yet while Dubai might be the short-term focus, it’s merely a stepping stone. Clegg has loftier goals come Tokyo 2020.

“I’m only doing the 200m in Dubai but going forward into Tokyo I plan on doing the 100m and the 200m again,” she says.

“Initially when I started to come back to training, my power wasn’t there at all, so that’s why we decided just to do the 200m. As time is going on, it is coming back.

“In Tokyo, I don’t want to just participate. I want to be real medal potential and hopefully repeat what I did in Rio.”

Clegg is a four-time Paralympic and five-time World Championship medallist

Swapping spikes for skates

After the World Championships are done and dusted, another challenge lies in wait for Clegg. In September, it was announced she would take part in Dancing On Ice.

Training, understandably, has yet to begin but there’s no denying Clegg’s excitement to try something new.

“I’m very competitive, so I think my competitiveness might outweigh my actual skill set on ice,” she says.

On becoming the show’s first blind contestant, Clegg adds: “There are positive and negatives. The positives are that I won’t be able to see if my head is going to hit the ice, but getting balance and coordination is going to be a bit trickier because I won’t have any focus points, but it’s just something I am going to have to work on.

“It’s an opportunity for me to get in front of a different audience, and that’s the main reason I wanted to do it.

“I am getting older and coming up to the age when I will retire at some point, so I need to make sure I open myself up to other opportunities as well.”


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