Happy talk sets Kadeena Cox up in good place for Tokyo Olympics defence

Imagine being so good at sport that you can be the world’s best in two different disciplines.

WARMING UP: Kadeena Cox goes through her paces on the warm-up bike at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester last November. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

Imagine being in your early 20s, with the world at your feet, only to be cut down by a stroke and then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Imagine having to manage that disease every day, and then having to battle an eating disorder as well.

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Imagine having such a radiant smile and winning personality that you are in demand as a celebrity on reality television shows.

Welcome to the world of Kadeena Cox.

Nothing is ever simple for the 28-year-old from Leeds, not that while in conversation with her you get the impression she would want it that way.

If life is a battle, then she is winning it; day by day, bit by bit.

This weekend, this inspiration of a human being is in Canada trying to earn a para-cycling track world title for a second time.

MAGIC MOMENT: Kadeena Cox of Great Britain celebrates on the podium after winning Women's C4-5 500m Time Trial at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Picture: Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

Do so, and it will be world title number five across para-athletics and para-cycling to go with her two Paralympic gold medals, one in athletics and one in cycling, won in Rio four years ago.

Back then, Cox was a fresh face on the Paralympic scene – the promising able-bodied athlete’s life had only changed two years earlier when she suffered a stroke just days after competing in the Loughborough International in May 2014, before being diagnosed with MS four months later.

Those catastrophic life events that would have floored most, proved to be fuel on the fire that burns inside Cox, inspiring her to get back into competitive sport quickly and become a Paralympic champion on foot and on two wheels.

Four years on, she is eyeing a double defence in Tokyo, with the events of the recent past continuing to challenge her every day.

Kadeena Cox in action at the Manchester International Para-Cycling in Manchester last November. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Because just three months ago at the para-athletics championships, another health issue that she had been quietly battling for years, bubbled to the surface.

“My eating disorder has always been under-lying, but because I spent the whole of 2018 out with injury, things got out of order,” Cox tells The Yorkshire Post.

“It had been something I was able to manage quite well because I was very active with sport and I was able to diet around that.

“In my head I knew I could always control it with sport.

“But once I was out injured, I couldn’t control it.”

Writing in a blog post prior to November’s world championships in Dubai, Cox chronicled how she would ‘stuff her face’, which would lead to ‘the inevitable vomiting’ and then ‘force herself to drink nothing but water’ for 24 hours.

Opening up proved cathartic for Cox.

“It’s something I didn’t realise I was struggling with,” says Cox, who adds that the disorder began in the year after her diagnosis of MS.

“Until people started making comments about it, I realised it was a bigger problem and I’d probably been struggling with it for a few years.”

Those world championships in Dubai proved the nadir.

“I just wasn’t in a happy place and there was a lot I wanted changing,” continues Cox, who changed athletics coaches in the wake of a bronze-medal finish in the T38 400m.

“Mentally I wasn’t prepared to go into that championships. I hadn’t done enough work on my coping strategies to combat the eating disorder.

“It all just got to me and I wanted to get out.”

Two-and-a-half months on, Cox arrived at the second world championships in Paralympic year in a better space mentally, even if the eating disorder is a constant battle.

“I’m in a much happier place than I was back in November,” she says.

“Am I where I’d like to be six months from now – not yet? 

“But I’ve managed to get myself into a better place. My support network is excellent. My psychiatrist has got me to talk through things.

“She has been suggesting things to get me into a place where I can be happier. I’ve spent a lot of time just focussing on being happy.”

Speaking out on such matters, though, has helped raise the profile of athletes struggling with similar issues.

As a marketable face – she has just been on our screens in Celebrity Coach Trip after starring in The Jump in 2017 – and a vocal champion for the disorder, Cox would be a natural ambassador for charitable causes.

“There’s a lot more suffering with eating disorders in sport that I certainly realised,” she acknowledges.

“The amount of people who got in touch with me after I came out and spoke about it publically has been quite overwhelming.

“And that’s part of why I did it. I want it to become a topic of conversation. But am I ready for an ambassadorial role? Not yet. Not while I’m still battling my own demons.”

So instead the focus is on herself, which is understandable given she is still trying to keep pace with the world’s best in two sports.

A week in the life of Kadeena Cox for instance, sees her travelling two days a week to Manchester for track cycling sessions, and then two days a week to Loughborough for athletics.

“I cycle like a runner so I get away with doing the two sports,” laughs Cox, who is bidding to defend her 500m time-trial in Canada this weekend.

“It’s a challenge juggling the two sports. Not only am I challenging myself across two sports, but also two cities.

“I’m in quite a lucky position where I can do two sports. There are other people trying to do it but they can’t do it at the very top level.

“In some way, doing two sports has probably taken away what I could achieve in one sport; I could have faster records or better times if I just concentrated on one sport.

“That might be looked at as a negative, but right now I can just about stay on top.

“How long I can keep doing it for? I’m not sure.

“Unfortunately it is getting harder. My MS is not always perfect, and I’m obviously trying to push the boundaries.

“Right now for instance, leading up to the cycling world championships, I’m struggling with an injury I picked up in athletics. 

“But if I didn’t love it I wouldn’t do it, so I can’t complain.”

The sacrifices she makes to be the best in two disciplines is acknowledged not only within the para-sport community, but across sport.

“It’s nice to get recognition from your peers. We train next to the able-bodied cyclists and when they come up and say they admire what you’re doing, that really means a lot,” she adds.

And the sacrifices she makes physically and mentally to stay at the very top, should never be under-estimated.