Posted on Sunday 14th May, 2023

We caught up with Para cyclist and mum Hannah Pascoe before she heads off to Alabama for the Para Cycling Road World Cup from 25-28 May.

You’ve just come off the Tour of New Zealand cycling race. How did that go?

It was an amazing experience. I have done my time on the tandem in previous years, but nothing to the extent of what we did during that week. Over the week, we had all sorts of conditions, from rainy days, scary hills up and down, and wind – everything you can imagine! I was also in the early stages of my son’s cold, so by the end of the week, climbing the Crown Range, I had no voice and my throat was burning. But we met some amazing people along the way. We had my pilot Sophie’s family supporting us in their car and with everything during the week. Sophie and I also got in some really good pedalling time, and it’s just been amazing.

What is it like riding the tandem with your pilot Sophie Williamson?

Sophie was approached by one of her work colleagues who is actually linked with Paralympics New Zealand and they mentioned that a development rider was looking for a pilot. Because Sophie’s had experience with tandems growing up as a kid and in road and track racing, she was quite keen to give it a go. We had our first go last August at a training camp, and then we had a second turn at the time trial back in February, which also went well. Doing this tour was actually our first time riding together, and she’s just been amazing to ride with and work with. We hit it off straight away on the tandem. I’ve learned a lot from Sophie, and her confidence has grown in road racing too. It’s a lot of teamwork that goes into riding a tandem. From keeping each other safe to always being aware of what’s going on. Working together is the key and that’s what we’ve been able to do so far.

Tandem bike on fenced road with green hills behind with Hannah Pascoe behind and Sophie Williamson in front
Sophie Williamson (l) and Hannah Pascoe (r) competing in the Parafed Waikato Activ8 event.

Tell us about how you got your start in Para cycling.

Initially it was through my cousin Kara, who’d been doing a bit of piloting for me back in 2016. She had suggested that I pursue a Paralympic possibility on the track. I went to my first development talent ID camp back in 2016 and was accepted onto the development squad in 2017. It happened to be around that time that Laura Thompson, a retired former Paralympic pilot, had just moved back down to Invercargill post the Rio 2016 Paralympics. So she took me under her wing as a coach, and that’s kind of how I got started. She’s been amazing to learn from. She’s like the queen of tandem. She knows absolutely everything there is to know about racing, about what it takes to be a good stoker, a good tandem pairing, about tandem handling, pushing yourself to the limits, and she even piloted with me last year in Belgium. Her experience has been just amazing to learn from, and that’s kind of how I am where I am now.

Next up, you’re heading off to race at the Para Cycling Road World Cup in Alabama.

I’m excited and super nervous about going to Alabama as it’ll be my first race in a year since Laura and I had done the Belgium World Cup back in 2022. My competitors are in quite well-established tandem pairings and have experience racing together whereas I haven’t had a lot of experience internationally. So as well as being totally blind, I feel a little bit disadvantaged going into it, but at the same time, just really keen to see what Sophie and I can do in the heat. We’ve done some really good training over the last few months, so I am excited for us.

What will be your goal at that event?

The goal is to do the best we can, first and foremost. Ultimately we want to either achieve a medal or a top 4 placing in order to qualify for the Para Cycling World Championships in August.

You’ve self-funded the trip. What has that looked like?

It’s been massive. So we started writing letters to businesses and organisations back in October and it was a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be. In January, my husband, Nick and I started a major fundraising campaign inspired by some other independently funded athletes. For our first one we spent a weekend at The Warehouse on a smart trainer using Zwift and just set up the bike and a donation box. Then we set up a Givealittle page. I got in touch with local newspapers to put the word out, and before I knew it, so many people from the Invercargill community just really got behind us and it’s just been such a beautiful process. It reminds me of how much I love Invercargill and why we are the community we are. We got support from Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Trust, SBS Bank, ILT Foundation, Meals on Wheels, the Lions, Blind Low Vision, and the Invercargill support group here. We also have a small group, The East Woman’s Rural Society and even just a lot of the members of the public have donated as well. Our biggest one, which really took me by surprise, was Mee & Henry Law – they are amazing! We’ve got a lot of amazing businesses and groups down here in Invercargill.

What do you want to say to those who have supported you?

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, there’s honestly – I’ve been overwhelmed for the last few months. I’ve kind of run out of words to say to express how grateful I am for all of your support. It really means the world and I hope to do you justice in Alabama and going forward. Thank you as well Southland Academy and the G Force Cycling Club, who have been helping out with riding and with training. But basically Invercargill – Invercargill is awesome!

It sounds like you got a lot of great support behind you there!

Yes, everybody should move to Invercargill!

You competed in 2018 at the Para Cycling World Champs and came 5th. How are things different this time around?

I’m more mature in my sport. When I did that, I was such a baby athlete. Even though I’m the age I am, I was so young in the sport and didn’t understand what it really took. I had no idea that was actually a good placing for a new person in the sport. I think what’s different now is that I know how to push myself. I know what it takes to be a high-performance athlete and what’s involved. Yeah, so I think I’ve grown a lot.

How does training as a high-performance development athlete fit into your schedule as a mum and employee at Blind Low Vision New Zealand?

Oh wow. It fits. You have to be very organised to sum it up. I’m up first thing in the morning with my son Max, then I train, then I go to work, and after work I’ve got to walk my guide dog Dara or go to the gym. It works, but it definitely takes organisation. My husband has been amazingly supportive as well to allow me that time to get training done too. So yeah, it’s huge. Max is just similarly amazing too. He came and cheered me on this morning when I was training. He told me that I have to ride my bike very fast. When I told him last week that I was nervous, he said, “You have to ride your bike really fast, and you have to beat everybody!”

Thank you so much for your time Hannah and we’re wishing you all the best!