Paralympian swimmer Claire Cashmore
Paralympian swimmer Claire Cashmore
The Paralympic Games which immediately follow the Olympics began in 1948, a modest affair with a handful of World War II veterans competing. This year's Games begin on 29th August and feature 20 sports, 4,200 athletes and millions of spectators. The Yorkshire Times caught up with Champion swimmer Claire Cashmore at her base at the Queen's Hotel, Leeds to find out how her preparations for this exciting event are going.

Claire, you showed great promise in many different sports, why did you choose to specialise in swimming?

At the age of 10 I returned to live in the UK from Dubai where I had learned to swim and become a bit of a water baby. I became involved in running, swimming, netball, hockey and lots more but one day the National Performance Director of Swimming asked me if I wanted to be a Jack of all trades or a Master of one. A decision had to be made and I chose swimming. I thought it was the sport in which I had a bit more talent so that was the decision I made and I have never looked back.

You have achieved great success already, winning medals in the Athens and Beijing Paralympics as well as many other British, European and Worldwide Championships. Have you had a lot of help and support along the way?

Definitely. My mum, dad and 2 sisters have always been there for me, always come to support me when I race. It's great that they have been supportive but not pushy. Then there are friends, coaches and total strangers who also offer their support. I have been amazed at the amount of good luck messages that I have received from people who don't know me from Adam.

Claire Cashmore
Claire Cashmore
As the 2012 Paralympics approaches what are your feelings now? Are you nervous at all?

I don't really know how I feel. I feel that there's still a lot of work to do and that I need to maintain focus. Sometimes I feel excited, sometimes nervous but mostly just very focussed.

You seem very positive and confident. How do you maintain that feeling and that focus?

Some days it is hard. I get up at 4.20am to go training and on a winter's morning, when it is dark, wet and cold outside and my friends are just returning from a night out, it can be difficult! That's when the visualisation of the end goal helps enormously. To visualise standing on that middle podium wearing your GB tracksuit, representing your country and watching that flag rise above you keeps me going day in day out. That moment makes all that hard work pay off, all those early mornings, all those nights out you missed out on, all those holidays it just makes it feel like it really is worth it.

How do you rate your chances in London? What do you hope to achieve?

To be the best I can be on the day. If I can come out with a lifetime best then I can't really ask for any more and hopefully that lifetime best will mean a gold medal.

Who is your biggest rival in these Games?

The Russian swimmer, Olesya Vladykina. Olesyna was a promising able-bodied swimmer prior to losing her arm in an accident in 2008. She took the gold medal at the Beijing Games that same year and has been ranked number one ever since. I am ranked number 2.

Do you have a favourite stroke?

I enjoy them all but breaststroke is my favourite.

This is your third Paralympics, does it feel different because it's in your own country?

It feels different because I am used to travelling to a holding camp in another country so to just hop on the train down to London will be strange. It's a dream come true to race in your own country in front of a home crowd with all your friends and family there too.

What does it feel like to stand on the podium and receive your medal?

I won Bronze at the Athens Games in 2004 and apparently I looked shocked and didn't smile but inside fireworks were going off. I remember touching the wall at the end of the race and seeing my name on the board and thinking 'no, that can't be true', then 'yeah', then 'no, that can't be true'. Then I saw my parents in the crowd dancing around and crying and I knew it was true. The feeling is so hard to explain but it is one that has kept me going for another 8 years after that. It's a feeling I want to feel over and over again. I'm so proud to be British and seeing the flag rise above me and really wanting to hear my national anthem is an incredible feeling.

How do you deal with the pressure in the build-up to the opening of the Games?

Usually I am far from home so not many people contact me and I am able to cut myself off but it is different being in your home country. Sometimes people want to spend time with me and invite me to go out with them but I can't do that. I need to go into my own little bubble, my own world. It's so important to keep that focus going.

Do you have any pre-swim rituals?

I always listen to music and I chat to people in the call up room. I am quite chilled out before a race. Then, as I move out to the pool I check my goggles lots of times and I always rub the block.

You have recently gained a Linguistics degree from the University of Leeds. Was it difficult to do that as well as maintain your swimming at such a high level?

It's good to have a distraction from swimming otherwise you can become obsessed. I swam the best I have ever swam whilst writing my dissertation.

Why did you choose Leeds for your studies?

It's a fantastic city, vibrant and really buzzing. The University was very supportive of my swimming and the City of Leeds Swimming Club is one of the best in the country. A perfect combination for me.

Ivar Diepen with Claire Cashmore at the Queens Hotel, Leeds
Ivar Diepen with Claire Cashmore at the Queens Hotel, Leeds
You're staying at the Queens Hotel in Leeds for several weeks prior to travelling down to London. How did that come about?

I had to leave my student accommodation at the end of term and really needed somewhere to stay so that I could continue my training before the Games. I spoke to a number of people and told them of my problem and out of the blue I was contacted by Ivar Diepen, the Manager of the Queen's Hotel who offered me 6 weeks complimentary accommodation which includes bed, breakfast and dinner. They even prepare a special menu for me. Ivar told me that they just wanted to do something to support the Games, a good deed as it were. I have been very touched by their gesture.

You're not from Yorkshire originally so can you tell us what you find to be the best thing about living here?

I love the Dales, York, Harrogate, Ilkley. It's such a beautiful part of the country and the people are so friendly. There's a huge diversity as you go from one town or village to another.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I'm currently doing some work with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and Sporting Champions, organisations that help and support young athletes and my dream job is to become a Blue Peter presenter!

Finally then, what advice would you give to anyone considering taking up swimming competitively?

To be prepared for hard work and dedication but to remember that it is a fantastic sport that can lead you to meet some fantastic people and travel the world. Keep at it; it's definitely worth it in the end.