Step by Step

You probably haven’t heard of Jess Leyden or Hannah Dines. That’s ok. You will.

This is Jess.

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And this is Hannah.

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They’re Olympians.

All right, so Jess hasn’t been to an Olympic Games. Not yet. She nearly made it to Rio, but the quadruple sculls rowing boat she was in finished a couple of places short of qualification. So while most of her friends and team mates were living it up in Brazil, she was sitting outside in a hotel in the Home Counties, telling me how she wasn’t going to miss out again.

Hannah went to the Paralympics a couple of years back. She finished fifth twice, in the combined T1/T2 field road race and time trial. Which, given that she hadn’t even seen a race trike four years previously, is pretty good going.

And they’ve both been hard at work since. Jess is back in the quad, with a couple of new team mates, and the four of them picked up a bronze medal at the World Championships in Florida last year, burning off Rio champions Germany en route. Hannah, meanwhile, has hooked up with a coach who has a history of guiding Paralympians to gold, and she’s been taken under the wing of Carol Cooke, perhaps the best female tricyclist the world has ever seen.

And me? I’m writing a book about them.

Why?

Because they are special, but perhaps even more because they’re actually, kind of, not. Jess’s family wanted her to have a hobby, but they didn’t ask for any more than that, and it wasn’t until the age of 12 that she first got into a boat – as part of her rehab after copping a wallop so hard from a horse that she still can’t straighten her arm. Hannah didn’t play sport – she’d barely even watched it – until she went to university, and saw a picture of a boy not even her own age having the time of his life piloting a three-wheeler called a RaceRunner.

Now, the two of them are making sacrifices every day so that four years down the line from Brazil, if the stars are aligned in just the right way and everything goes right, they might just possibly win a gold medal; but whether they win that medal or not, whether they qualify for the Games or not, whether they are lauded or whether they are forgotten, they have dedicated themselves in these, the silent hours, to becoming the very best they can be.

Because being an Olympian isn’t about glory. It’s about the life you live.

So why am I writing this book?

Because Jess and Hannah are Olympians.

We hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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