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A track athlete from a young age, Kadeena Cox was a promising sprinter when she suffered from a stroke at the age of 23. Just four months later, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition where the immune system attacks the brain and nerves. An intense rehabilitation period followed, and whilst using a Wattbike as part of her rehab, Kadeena discovered she had a naturally impressive power output.

Spotting her talent, British Cycling snapped her up, and incredibly, just 18 months later, Kadeena joined Team GB at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. Competing in athletics and cycling, she made history with gold medal wins and new world records in the T38 Athletics 400m and the C4 Cycling 500m TT, becoming the first Briton since 1984 to podium in two different sports at the same Games. Fast-forward to today, and Kadeena is a four-time Paralympic gold medallist, most recently setting a new world record in cycling’s C4-5 500m Time Trial at the Tokyo Olympics. 

In this Q&A, EatLean ambassador Kadeena talks through her MS diagnosis and its impact on her performance, plus she shares more about the KC Academy, which she’s set up to help improve diversity and inclusion within cycling.

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You were a track athlete from a young age. How did you get into athletics, and what did you compete in?
I was always a runner; I basically walked at seven months. I did all kinds of sports, but my top asset was my speed. At 14, I went to a talent day where I got selected and then went on to join Leeds City athletics club. 

In 2014, everything changed. Can you share how you ended up with a diagnosis of MS and what you were experiencing mentally and physically during this time? 
I had a stroke diagnosis earlier in the year in May 2014, and that left me with right-sided weakness and dysarthria, which is speech disturbance. I was recovering from that, and then four months later, in September, I started getting ultra-sensation in my arms and burning and tingling in my right arm. This spread throughout my whole body from my neck downwards, so I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with MS. At that point, I was struggling to walk, struggling to open bottles for myself, unable to do my personal care and basically needed support with everything. 

It was mentally quite tough, especially being a 23-year-old girl and losing my independence; having to learn how to do things again, with people wanting to do things for you without realising they’re hindering your progress. I had to stop family from being really caring and had to put my foot down to allow myself to learn and be this ‘new’ me. It was quite tricky; I was in a significant amount of pain, and it took a long time for my pain meds to be managed. I would spend some nights blacking out from the pain, and I had to learn how to deal with my new body as I was on steroids. I was putting on weight, which meant it was tough dealing with my body image. 

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During this difficult time, you discovered you had a talent for cycling, is that right? 
Yes! I couldn’t run effectively when I first got back from my diagnosis because my balance and coordination were bad, so I would always fall over. I got on a Wattbike in the gym, and my strength and conditioning coach and another girl who was trying for talents transfer said my powers were quite good. They put me in contact with British Cycling, who did a testing day with me and snapped me up straight away.

Since then, you’ve become a world record holder and a four-time Paralympic medallist. Can you share how your MS affects your ability to train, recover and compete?
It makes it hard; fatigue is by far one of the biggest problems. Sometimes I’m too fatigued to even do the training, and other times it means it takes me a little while longer to recover, so it’s up and down. It’s a balancing act of trying to make sure that I’ve got enough energy to do the training and that I’m eating the right foods to be able to recover properly, as my body just doesn’t recover in the same way as other people’s. [My body is] impacted quite significantly, and we always hope that this doesn’t happen on race day. However, on race days, I do really struggle due to my dystonia (painful and uncontrolled muscle spasms) which causes a lot of problems. My movement also causes multiple problems on race day, as I lose control over my muscles, so that’s a real challenge. 

What does a typical week of training look like for you?
A typical week of training looks like this: 
Mondays, I run and do a circuit session in Loughborough.
Tuesdays, I do a technical sprint session and gym session. Then in the afternoon, I will do a turbo session – just an easy spin.
Wednesdays, I do a running session and then head back up to Manchester.
On Thursdays, I do a longer ride, whether on the road or on the turbo. This is then followed by a gym session.
Fridays, I do a turbo interval session on the bike. Saturdays, I run.
Saturdays, I run.

What type of strength and conditioning exercises feature in your gym sessions?
Strength and conditioning-wise, I do some Olympic lifts like clean and jerk. I do back squats and front squats, hip thrusts, Romanian deadlifts, and step-ups. In addition, I do a lot of calf-loading exercises like calf raises, split squats and lunges. 

You recently set up the KC Academy. Can you tell us about this?
The KC Academy is my baby. It’s something I set up because I didn’t feel like there was enough representation within cycling, having come from athletics which is quite a diverse sport. I set it up with the aim of getting more athletes [of colour] in at the elite level so that they can be the inspiration to the next generation. Children coming through can look up and say that person looks like me, and I can achieve that because I’ve seen them achieve it. Hopefully, this will bring more participation at the grassroots level.

What’s next for you in 2022?
In 2022 I’ve got the Commonwealth Games, so I will be trying to qualify for the 100 metres. I also have the Cycling World Championships, and hopefully, I’ll be able to reclaim my 500-metre world title. Away from sport, cooking is a huge passion of mine, especially after winning Celebrity MasterChef 2021, so I’m also hoping to develop more recipes to share on social media for people to create. Some of these are using Eatlean, this really healthy cheese that I’m obsessed with. Essentially, it’s high in protein, low in fat and low in calories. It means I can still enjoy cheese, without the extra fat and calories. It’s also lactose-free, which is perfect for me as I have a number of intolerances, one of which is lactose. I’m [currently] just playing around with different recipes that I can create for people to enjoy food while still being conscious of what they eat.

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You can follow Kadeena via her social media channels: www.instagram.com/kad21 and www.twitter.com/kad_c.