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By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
From cake baker to double European champion, Fabienne André’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic was quite unique.
André’s maiden international success in Poland came just two years after she first started wheelchair racing and later that summer she competed alongside her idol and Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft at the Tokyo Games.
She says that Cockroft’s encouragement throughout her international debut is fuelling André’s desire to push harder than ever before this summer, as she pursues podium finishes at the Commonwealth Games.
“If it wasn’t for lockdown I wouldn’t have been at that point in my racing career, so in some ways it was a bonus to me,” said André, who has been selected to be part of the Team England Futures programme with Commonwealth Games England and SportsAid.
“It was an amazing opportunity and one that was quite unexpected. It’s one of my favourite competitions to date, for sure, and ultimately led to me qualifying for Tokyo.”
André, who has cerebral palsy, only raced twice competitively in 2020, having not been able to access the track as a result of the pandemic.
So her triumphs in the T34 100m and 800m events in Bydgoszcz caught a few, including herself, by surprise.
"There were times when I wouldn’t accept myself and I didn’t like who I was. Athletics changed that."@HettyBartlett opens up on her cerebral palsy diagnosis, being reclassified and her emotional journey to #Birmingham2022 🏆
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— SportsAid (@TeamSportsAid) July 3, 2022
André recalled: “I crossed the line and thought ‘where is everyone?’
“Then I realised that I had won, but you’re so focused on trusting the process and focusing on what you’re doing that it takes a bit of time to sink in.”
With Covid restrictions in place, André was unable to celebrate her success with friends and family who were watching on from home, but that did not stop the messages of congratulations from flooding in.
“It was incredible,” she explained. “It was just so nice to know there was so much support out there, and so many people watching and following, it was quite overwhelming.
“Hannah Cockroft was really supportive during the Games and really plugged how well I’d done. She was pushing me to go to Tokyo and it was nice to see how you become respected by your fellow athletes with those achievements.
“I came into the sport quite late on but always followed it and just think that anyone I’m competing against is an inspiration to work towards.
Just 12 months prior André had been busy baking cakes during lockdown for friends, family, colleagues and anyone in need of a pick-me-up.
Despite juggling a busy training schedule with her job as a physiotherapy assistant, she still finds time to bake.
Asked which cake was her favourite, she replied: “I think chocolate brownie because it lasts and it goes down pretty well. But I always enjoy making a lemon cake as well, there’s a bit more time and effort that goes into it.”
“You need something to switch off from sport, otherwise you’ll just be focusing on it all the time.”
The Team England Futures programme will see over 1,000 talented young athletes and aspiring support staff given the opportunity to attend the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, watch live sporting action and take a first-hand look behind-the-scenes.
The programme seeks to better prepare athletes to deliver medal-winning performances as either Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB debutants at future Games, while also giving support staff a first-hand look at the opportunities they could be presented with, as well as challenges they may face, at a multi-sport competition.
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The second series of our podcast has arrived and is inspired by #TeamEnglandFutures 🏴
Episode one is themed ‘Part of the Pride’ with @DaniBrownMBE and @TJL1967 as our guests 🦁
Listen NOW on Spotify, Apple and Acast!
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— SportsAid (@TeamSportsAid) June 6, 2022
André believes the funding she has received as part of the programme has helped to accelerate her development.
“It makes a really big difference. To be able to progress in your training you need to be able to dedicate time to it so it does involve adjusting work,” she said.
“It’s huge as it allows me to spend more time training and getting to competitions.”
She hopes that support will culminate with an appearance at the Paralympics in Paris in two years’ time. Before then however, a Commonwealth Games debut, and just a second competitive event in front of a crowd.
“I just want to come away with a PB, if that equals medals then that’s amazing,” André said.
“I really enjoy pushing my body to understand its capabilities. Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, I felt there was a lot of talk around what you can’t do.
“I just love trying to learn new things and to get better at things, that motivates me.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. You can find out more about the programme by visiting https://www.sportsaid.org.uk/partnerships/team-england-futures/.