September 1, 2018
For Dame Sarah Storey, Great Britain’s most successful female Paralympian of all time, setting up a business while maintaining her position as one of the world’s leading cyclists has very much been a family affair.
Having won her 30th and 31st world titles last month with double success in the Para-cycling World Championships in Italy – to add to the 14 Olympic golds she has won so far – Dame Sarah credited her latest achievement to the unwavering support of her loved ones, with whom she travels the world on the quest for further success.
Incredibly, Dame Sarah’s latest win came barely nine months after she gave birth to Charlie, her second child, and she continued to breastfeed throughout her gruelling training regime for the Worlds. Alongside five-year-old Louisa, Charlie joins Dame Sarah on her journeys throughout the UK and further afield, with husband Barney and Sarah’s parents also ever-present in the camp.
While managing a punishing training regime and aspiring for further Olympic success in Tokyo 2020, 40-year-old Dame Sarah has also found time to establish her own cycling team, Storey Racing. A business run by her and Barney – himself a decorated Paralympic athlete, winning three gold medals as a sighted pilot in tandem track cycling – Storey Racing is a 12-rider team with the goal of offering the very best in racing opportunities and mentoring to its cyclists.
The team has achieved wider recognition for its role in championing confidence and aspiration through its #BestVersionOfYou campaign, which encourages everyone, whatever their age or circumstances, to aspire for their own personal success.
Everything in Storey Racing is done by the Storeys – from securing sponsorship for the team and marketing its brand, to driving the Storey Racing wagon, to making sure their children are learning and having fun while out on the road. There is certainly no entourage of ‘people’ tending to their every need, as many may expect for such a high-profile and successful athlete running a fast-growing sports business.
It’s a juggling act, admits Dame Sarah, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Speaking as she trained in Whitley Bay in preparation for her trip to the World Championships, Dame Sarah says: “I have the most wonderful family and my husband and parents have always followed me around the world for my racing, but it’s about getting that balance of ying and yang now that we have the kids – being an athlete is one of the most selfish things you can possibly do, but being a mother is one of the most selfless.
“It continues to amaze me how much you can do and achieve with so little sleep and such little time, but you learn to make the most of what you have. Training is now dictated by school hours, and I have structured a plan so I can do 10am to 2pm, then get back for Louisa. I’m a mum first and foremost and Storey Racing is very much a family business. We have a lot of fun together on the road, and it’s a great education for these two [Louisa and Charlie].”
While Storey Racing, founded in November last year, is still a fledgling business, its success has been swift. As well as the multiple successes for Dame Sarah in road races across the UK, several other team members are making waves, including 19-year-old Anna Kay, from Gateshead, who recently got her first podium finish in a national championship.
However, Dame Sarah knows only too well the continuing struggle of women’s and Paralympic sports to secure funding, having battled against such a backdrop throughout her career, and has built a business model with that in mind.
“The funding in women’s sport is dire,” she says simply. “While the profile of Paralympic sport has increased massively since I first joined, and the Lottery funding grants have also been a huge boost, there are still no big companies investing in women’s teams like they do in men’s sport.
“At one end of the spectrum, you’ll have someone like Serena Williams as one of the highest earning global superstars, and then right at the other end you’ll have Paralympic sport.
There are certainly no six-figure salaries, and for many athletes, once they have some success and build their reputation, they will turn to the likes of public and motivational speaking as another source of income. It can be tough, especially in the early days.
“I was well aware of that challenge when I set up Storey Racing, but one of the main reasons I did that was so I could be in complete control of everything, sponsorship and funding included. We work with a number of small but fabulous brands who for us are absolutely everything, and through their investment and belief in us, are allowing us to do what we do.”
One such sponsor is Leathers the Accountants, based in Newcastle, Durham and Harrogate. Leathers was one of the first businesses to give its backing to Storey Racing and managing partner Michael Leather – himself a keen cyclist, who takes part in gruelling events around the world – has become such a supporter of the team he joins them for training sessions.
“Michael is a real inspiration, and he’s a great champion of #BestVersionOfYou. It is so impressive to see how he juggles training with an incredibly busy work schedule, and he has achieved such big personal successes through using cycling to benefit his health and work/life balance,” says Dame Sarah.
“#BestVersionOfYou is something we don’t just want to apply to cycling, it is for everyone in everyday life. It’s about doing what you do to the best of your ability and achieving whatever success means to you – we want to help encourage aspiration and ambition that whatever your age or circumstances, you can set goals and achieve them.”