Interview with Paralympic canoeist Charlotte Henshaw


Paralympic Charlotte Henshaw has competed successfully for Britain in both swimming and canoeing. Having won a Gold and Bronze at London 2012, she won Bronze in Rio four years later. Changing sports, Charlotte successfully won three golds at the World Championships at canoeing within the course of just two years.

Once lockdown kicked in it took a little while for Charlotte to get used to this.

“Initially it was a little bit tricky because when we went into lockdown the Olympics and Paralympics hadn’t yet been postponed, so that was a little bit of a challenge to see how we would train at home, then once that decision was made it made it slightly easier to adjust the training plans and it made us feel a little bit more at ease that we had the time to do what we needed to do at the time, which was to be at home and not to take any risks for ourselves or other people and it also gave us that timeline that we could make better plans.” she said.

“It’s been tricky not being able to get out on to the water, but we are very fortunate that we have been given equipment from British Canoeing and the Institute of Sport to try and make do as best as we can while we are training out of our homes.” she added.

It came as no real surprise to Charlotte when the decision of postponing this years Paralympics came through.

“Rather than trying to force something that wouldn’t have been safe, I think we knew that that decision was coming.” she said. “It didn’t make it any easier when it actually happened because we spend our entire athletic life working in four year cycles and for then to suddenly have the goalposts moved quiet close to those dates was tricky as the last year of a games cycle is gearing up towards those ten days and to have that  suddenly moved twelves months further away is hard to get your head around when you have peaked and ready to perform sooner rather than later, but we just have to plan effectively and manage ourselves to do that extra 12 months, and that will be a challenge for sure.”

Charlotte started her sporting life as a swimmer, but gradually decided that she fancied a new challenge in a different sport.

“I knew going into the Rio games that it would potentially be my last Paralympics as a swimmer and at that time my last Paralympics in total.” she said. “I remember sitting at the closing ceremony at Rio thinking crickey I really don’t want this to be it. I wasn’t sure that I could do another four years swimming as I think that I had reached my peak and the age profile of swimming is much younger than other sports. When I retired from swimming I knew that I still wanted to be part of the Paralympic movement in some way and I thought well I live in Nottinghamshire they are based in Nottingham, it’s close by and I thought I will go and give it a go [paracanoeing]and I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, and as soon as I got in a boat I felt that this was a challenge that I wanted to take on and in six months since getting a boat I was in the European Championships racing for Britain and I found another sport that I was just as passionate about as swimming.”

Charlotte won silver at London 2012 and that day has always stuck in her mind.

“We were just lucky that it fell at the time when we were at the peak of our sport and to be able to compete at home games was something that I will never forget.” she said. “That day to have a lot of people in the crowd supporting me and for them to share that day with me in some way was absolutely incredible. In my life there won’t be many days as special as that one.”

Charlotte has had to overcome many difficult hurdles in her life, the biggest was being born with a disorder.

“It was a birth defect that I had which basically meant that my legs hadn’t developed as they should.” She said. “I had my legs amputated through the knee when I was 15 months old, so I don’t know any different and I always say that that it is a bit of a blessing as I have learnt to live my life with my disability and the ways that I do things are completely natural to me so I feel very fortunate that’s the case.”

As lockdown slowly eases, canoeists are gradually getting back to the waterways, but for Paralympians this can still be a big challenge.

“We all train out of one place which obviously makes it tricky with numbers of people.” she said. “Even though we are an outdoors sport, there are still those safety measures that we have to put in place and whilst it’s still very easy to maintain social distancing on the water it’s difficult as the Paracanoeist team can’t carry our boats ourselves as we have our coaches to do this and some of the lower classifications need their boats steading in the water which means they’re in close proximity to the coaches, so that’s an extra challenge that we face that potentially the Olympic athletes may not.”

Charlotte is a massive fan of the theatre, and is clearly longing to get back to seeing a production.

“I miss it a lot, aside from the fact that I’m missing my friends and family. I love the theatre, it’s a real escape for me, always have been, I’ve loved it since I was a child. It’s always been a place that I can escape to and not think about anything else. It’s completely transformative for me and I really do miss that.” she said.

She fears a very uncertain outlook for the theatre and it’s staff.

“It look’s like a very bleak future for the performing arts. I think it’s going to be really hard for them to come back, but I’m sure they will.”

Interview with Charlotte Henshaw



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