Laura Sugar, poised in lane seven, is ready for the gun to signal the start of the 200m final at the Paralympic Games.

Fast forward five years and Sugar has her sights set on exactly same - except this time she will be holding a paddle, sat in a kayak – not looking down a track.

But how did she get to the point where the dream could easily become a reality?

Sugar is selected for her second Paralympic Games

Sugar made the switch from Para athletics to Para canoe in 2018 and while there are obvious - and significant - differences between the two sports, the 30-year-old believes there are many valuable similarities.

“The thrill of racing, lined up in lanes, and going as hard as you can for 200m – that is really similar to athletics,” explained Sugar. “The buzz and the adrenaline is just the same and the training has similar principles too.”

A multiple European medallist on the track, Sugar was talent spotted by British Canoe and, with the support of her athletics coaches, she was eager to give the sport a try.

Sugar (centre) in action on the track at Rio 2016

Switching sports

In the summer of 2018, prior to the Para Athletics European Championships, Sugar tested on an ergo machine and in the gym. A few weeks later she returned home from Berlin - with two sprint bronze medals – and went out on the water.

Sugar’s progress was impressive as she adjusted to being in a boat.

“The chunks of time came off really quickly. I was a sponge to all the information and so it was possible to make some big gains,” explained Sugar, who quickly adapted to the technique and balance required to paddle, in part thanks to the years spent adjusting her stance and balance due to her club foot.

“Because of my foot I don’t have the ankle movement, so a lot of my stability has to come from my hips – which I’ve practised a lot over the years. I’ve probably had more ‘nearly’ moments than everyone else but, touch wood, I’ve not fallen in too many times!”

Sugar training on the water in preparation for Tokyo

While Sugar kept up her athletics training alongside Para canoe, by April 2019 she had lowered her personal best significantly and realised she was capable of competitive times. She completed the talent transfer process and travelled to her first major international Para canoe competition, the European Championships in Poznan, Poland, winning bronze in the women’s KL3 event. Days later she added World Cup silver.

“I knew then that I had a chance to do well,” she explained. “I thought actually, I can do this and I started getting a bit more belief.

“I know the bigger the event, the more adrenaline I get and the more I perform. I have that experience from athletics.”

Sugar capped off a spectacular debut season with World Championship silver in Hungary, then took part in the Para canoe test event in Tokyo, an experience that she believes will set her in good stead at this summer’s Paralympic Games.

“It was really useful – just getting to know the Japanese culture, I think we will feel at home when we go back there.

“There was quite a strong headwind at the Seaforest Waterway, where we will compete, and also jumping fish! People finished the race with fish in their boats or got hit in the face by a jumping fish – experiencing those conditions won’t feel alien to us and it will feel a lot more natural.

“My goals for the future are firmly in canoe now. I really do love it – I’m not planning on trying out any other sports or doing anything else. The thrill of racing – it’s really exciting, propelling yourself through the water.

“My aim is to go to Tokyo and try and win a gold medal. I want to go out there and be as fast as I can - and hopefully that will be good enough. It would be great to be on a podium for the first time at a Paralympic Games.”

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