If anyone is a role model for young girls today, it’s Kadeena Cox. A stroke victim in 2014, Kadeena was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis weeks later. Yet her performance was so impressive in Rio 2016 she was the chosen GB flag bearer at the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Kadeena is the first British Paralympian to win gold medals in multiple sports since 1988. She came home from Rio with four medals: gold, silver and bronze in paralympic athletics and gold in paracycling. Now how does a 23-year-old athlete turn her life around like that?
At James Allen’s Girls’ School in South London, we heard the answer. It was always going to be a special Monday, with Kadeena Cox joining us, but the girls and staff were totally blown away by her story. In assembly, Kadeena explained the impact of her immobility on a talented athlete. Can you imagine not being able to do anything for yourself, your mum having to bath you, aged 23? Determination, coupled with a stubborn refusal to give up on her dreams, spurred Kadeena on. A day out from her hospital bed she was asking how soon she could get back to training.
“I don’t know how much more time as an athlete I have. By Tokyo 2020 I might not even be in a position to take part in one event,” said Kadeena. “I wanted to succeed in Rio so badly so I could stand here and show it can be done, even if you have set-backs.”
This is an aspiration we can share: take whatever life throws at you and turn it to your advantage. “Set-backs are a part of life. You have to keep moving forward,” she said.
At JAGS, which consistently reaches the top of academic league tables, there’s a strong belief that sport feeds into personal development. Apart from the team games you would expect, JAGS PE offers golf, ice-skating and rowing off-site and specialist coaches teach kickboxing, climbing and yoga, aiming to provide moments of inspiration and enjoyment that will remain with the pupils long beyond their time at JAGS.
In a couple of hours, Kadeena showed the GCSE PE pupils what it takes to become elite. Perfectly in tune with their course, Kadeena chatted about nutrition, somatotyping, health and fitness, types of training, periodisation, international competition and media in sport. She was also just as happy to take part in a mannequin challenge and to reveal secrets about her eyeliner!
Kadeena’s words will have resonance in years to come. Two individual athletes of our own made strong connections in conversation with Kadeena. For example, one pupil in Year 13 who is an international champion racewalker, said: “Hearing about Kadeena’s transition from an able-bodied athlete to a Paralympian, and then seeing all her hard work and commitment rewarded her with such phenomenal achievements, has made me even more motivated to reach this high level in my own sports. Hopefully one day I will win an Olympic medal too.”
Another Year 13 pupil also voiced a response shared by many: “What stood out to me was her infectious, positive attitude about working hard and this is what I took away from meeting her. I was proud to hear such an outstanding woman talk and encourage a room full of girls who are still trying to figure out who they are. I could not help but think what an amazing role model we can look up to.”