“If I was you I would kill myself because your life is not worth living.”
Claire Cashmore has faced her fair share of abuse. She was born without a forearm. As a result, bullies and trolls have tried to bring her down all her life.
But she has proven them all wrong winning eight Paralympic swimming medals, she is a titan in her field. Now, at the upcoming Paralympics in Tokyo, her fifth appearance in the Games, the 33-year-old from Redditch is hoping to add one more in the triathlon as the defending ITU World Champion in the PTS5.
“I lived a pretty good life actually,” she tells me over Zoom one balmy June night straight after a training session.
“I don’t think that is right but generally if you are comfortable in your own skin you generally make people feel comfortable in their own skin. That’s been one of my biggest things that I have come through. I can play a joke with my arm and I can play tricks with my arm. I can do all sorts of things and that makes people comfortable.”
It wasn’t easy growing up but now her story is a true inspiration for the younger generation of disabled athletes.
“After Rio I decided to take a challenge and take a leap into the unknown,” Cashmore said. After the 2016 Paralympic in Rio de Janeiro, she announced in September 2017 that she would switch sports to purse a career in Para triathlon. The Paralympic gold medallist is a Reach Ambassador. Claire Cashmore is an ambassador for Reach. They try to build confidence, patience and self-esteem for children with upper limb differences.
Qualifying as a triathlete poses its own challenges. There are so many permutations to look out for on the day. The weather conditions, the tidal ￼rush. As Cashmore said: “You can never control the weather. It could be a super windy day which can cause a lot of chops on the water and you can end up swallowing lots of water. Any kind of failure on your equipment, nutritional problems, so many things can completely change the race. Tokyo will be super-hot and humid.”
You only qualify by submitting your best three races over a two-year period and only the top eight qualify for the Paralympics. It was a completely different process to when she was a swimmer.
There is often a misunderstanding between the Olympics and Paralympics. They are elite athletes who happen to have a disability. Cashmore outlined “They just work as hard as able-bodied athletes.”
The Paralympics begin 24th August, Cashmore hopes the audience don’t switch off since the Premier League will begin on 14th August. She hopes the momentum carries on after the Olympics, “It is like a snowball effect. People want to see more sport. They want to tune in and quickly get the bug.”
But there are also sensitive issues with disabled Athletes. All too often, disabled people are either marginalised, vilified or rendered invisible in film, TV and literature.
‘The Witches’ movie released 16th April 2021 created an enormous amount of controversy. Actress Anne Hathaway faced repercussions for playing a witch with three fingers from the 1983 Ralh dalh book. The movie has upset people who are differently abled. Dahl described the witches as having claws rather than fingernails, but made no mention of missing fingers.
“When I saw the image of Anne Hathaway with very real-life limb difference it was quite upsetting,” Cashmore said. “There are so many people like that and they are going to watch that film and they are going to feel depicted as an evil monstrous witch.”
The main target audience is children. The danger is that disabled children can be portrayed as evil monsters. This movie can potentially lead to other children making offensive comments, something Cashmore knows all about.
“It was the comments like, ‘your arm is making me feel sick’ and when you’re getting in a circle and other people don’t want to hold your hand, that really hurt me”, Cashmore explained. “I hated the fact I was different and I wanted to hide my arm all the time even when it was boiling outside.”
Cashmore believes that Witches director Robert Zemeckis should have contacted people with disabilities and got their opinions. That, she said, would have led to better understanding in Hollywood.
But things are changing. Positive dialogue has begun and misconceptions are being challenged. However, more needs to be done.
“I think they are unaware,” Cashmore added. “I don’t believe they intended to upset anybody and you know Anne Hathaway’s response.” –According to BBC “I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences. Now that I know better, I promise I’ll do better”, –is really nice and she apologised and didn’t mean to cause any upset. But who is making these decisions? Who is involved in this? Does it come down to lack of representation again behind the scenes.”
There is a lack of representation in the media too. Only 2.5 percent of the industry comes from the disabled community. There needs to be a more positive and balanced approach. So how did the biggest film industry get it wrong?
“I just think it’s so simple and no nobody in the process saw it,” Cashmore offered as a way of explanation. “It’s not a small-scale film, it would have gone through so many directors and you think how did no nobody see that. Maybe they didn’t see anybody with a limp difference I just find that mind boggling too. “