Paralympic champion Claire Cashmore has written a children’s book.
That’s not an opening line the athlete would have even dreamt into existence 12 months ago. After all, at this point last year, the Tokyo 2020 Games were still set to happen in, well…2020.
The word ‘lockdown’ might have been on the tip of the Prime Minister’s tongue at the time, but it would be another week before he delivered his first daily press conference in front of the wooden walls now more familiar to many Britons than their own grandparents’ wallpaper.
Everyone knows the next chapter in that story—the world utterly and inexorably changed—but it also served as the inspiration behind another, entirely different tale.
Cashmore explained: “It all came about during the first lockdown, with Black Lives Matter. I sat there, and I was disgusted by everything that was going on.
“And I just thought, how are we living in a world where there’s so much discrimination still?
“Something I’ve always been quite passionate about is disability representation, and the lack of it, and how we can have more role models out there with a disability in the media, in books, all that kind of stuff.
“Because, growing up, I never had that. And I think that didn’t help me during my teenage years, when you are really self-conscious.
“So I was like, right. I need rather than to just keep talking about this, I actually need to do something, and try to normalise disability as much as possible by it existing in all areas of life.”
So she reached out to a few publishers who loved the concept for Splash, the autobiographically-inspired story of a girl with one arm who is afraid of the water but conquers her fears.
Cashmore, a four-time Paralympian, stormed onto the world swimming stage at age 16, winning two bronze medals at the Athens Games in 2004. She’s stood on the Paralympic podium six times since, including in 2016 when she won her first gold with the 4x100m medley relay team in Rio.
It’s safe to say the Redditch native, who has since switched to triathlon, is used to writing her name into the history books—but when it came to penning a story for kids, that didn’t quite prove a transferable skill.
“Honestly, I was like, I’m terrible at English. English was my worst subject at school. How am I doing this?” Cashmore recalled, laughing.
“I think just because I was quite passionate about it. Well, I’m going to find a way, I’m going to make sure that I try and do the best job I possibly can.
“It’s coming out June 10th. I haven’t really told anybody yet!”
Splash will be released on Egmont, a collection from HarperCollins Publishers. The parent company also boasts works by the likes of David Walliams, David Baddiel and Michael Morpurgo.
Cashmore deliberately chose not to mention her protagonist’s disability in the story, explaining: “I think often the problem is we almost put too much emphasis on it, the fact that this person has a disability and they’re different, and drawing attention to it in that way is heightening the fact that they’re different.
“Rather than actually, it’s just a character that exists. Kids just see them cracking on with life and kind of seeing it as normal and quite cool, and, you know, she’s achieving all these things.”
The 32-year-old, who has been training in Loughborough for the postponed Tokyo Games, is less content to simply exist at the Paralympics.
She said: “Paralympians are always seen as these really incredible, inspirational people for just turning up.
“And it’s like, but we want to be inspirational for breaking down barriers and doing absolutely incredible things in our sporting arena. I don’t want to be inspirational because I tied my shoelaces.
“I had somebody—I was running down the canal the other day and a guy was like, ‘oh, well done you!’ And he looked at my arm. And I was like, I could be reading into this. I could be completely making this up in my head.
“But the fact that he looked at my arm, and he’s like, ‘Oh, oh, jolly good! Well done, you!’ and I’m thinking, ok, just because I have one arm it does not affect my legs.”
Cashmore believes the pandemic has helped her build mental fortitude. It’s also helped her forge her identity away from sport.
She explained: “Knowing and working out what is… what more is Claire Cashmore? It’s not just you are a triathlete, a swimmer, whatever you’ve been.
“[Writing a book] has been really exciting, stepping outside my comfort zone and doing something I’ve never done before has been kind of liberating but challenging at the same time.”
She added: “I think it is really important to describe yourself as something else, other than an athlete.”
Splash, with words by Claire Cashmore and illustrations by Sharon Davey, is available for pre-order and will be released by HarperCollins Publishers on 10 June 2021.