“In the waltz, the biggest challenge was, I don’t know how to say it, it’s a very slow dance”
Swim, bike, run and — dance?
Of all the transitions Lauren Steadman has done in her Para triathlon career, the most unusual – and perhaps toughest – was going from winning World Championship gold to waltzing on British TV show “Strictly Come Dancing.”
Steadman did just that, in one week.
She flew from Gold Coast, Australia, where the 2018 World Triathlon Grand Final was taking place, back to Great Britain for her first performance live on “Strictly” last Saturday (22 September).
“I think most of my nerves probably got away at Worlds,” the 25-year-old said.
“I was very nervous at my World Championship race. So when I got on the Strictly dance floor, I sort of, I don’t know, learned how to deal with them and just focused on looking at AJ’s face.”
The show pairs celebrities with professional dancers who compete in front of a judge panel.
Steadman was partnered with AJ Pritchard, and the couple only had two days to fully rehearse before taking the floor.
“I did feel it was a bit rushed and maybe if we had a couple of more days I could have adjusted the smaller details that would have made it a bit finer,” Steadman said.
“Otherwise I was really chuffed just to get through the dance, and then the fact that we had a good response from the judges and AJ was super happy, so it just made me happy.”
Keeping being busy was key
The timing of the World Championships and Strictly conflicted. But it was not impossible to prepare for both.
Steadman knew what she wanted: gold in Australia. And she trusted in her coach and management team to let her know whether or not doing both would work out.
“Training for the World Championships was always my main priority,” Steadman said. “My training didn’t actually change at all. It just meant I had to get a little bit better with rest and recovery.”
She would train for triathlon until 9 a.m., and have her second session at 5 p.m. That afternoon window was used for dancing.
“I’m the sort of girl who can handle a lot of pressure and have quite a busy schedule and I’d rather be busy than just not have enough to do,” she said.
“That’s when I find my training goes the wrong way but for me, to juggle those two together was no problem.”
But she did feel joining Strictly increased the pressure to win in Australia.
Para triathlon debuted at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, with Steadman a favourite to win. But a missed turn on the swim costed her the title.
In the following year’s World Championships, she crashed in the bike leg due to a technical issue with her arm prosthesis and settled for silver, again.
“I just didn’t want anyone else to doubt me and that was the biggest thing that was driving me (in Australia),” she said.
“I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh she’s not focused on Worlds because she’s dancing.’ It was just the total opposite. I found myself more concentrated on Worlds and I wanted to prove to anyone that you can do more than one thing.”
Learning to be slow
Steadman becomes the second person with an impairment to compete on Great Britain’s edition of Strictly, following Paralympic and world champion Jonnie Peacock last season.
As an athlete used to making fast transitions, Steadman had to slow down, which was an adjustment for her first dance.
“In the waltz, the biggest challenge was, I don’t know how to say it, it’s a very slow dance,” Steadman said.
“That was a challenge… was trying to be slow and it looks very elegant and easy to do, but it’s a very technical dance and getting into body positions I’m not used to.”
Dancing with a person with an impairment was also a challenge for her professional partner Pritchard.
“I think it’s been a learning curve for AJ,” Steadman said. “He’s a world champion himself so he has got the experience and the knowledge of learning different choreographies.
“He was trying to teach me how to do one-handed cartwheel. So he is thinking outside the box and he is pushing me and he has realised that I can’t use my one-arm as an excuse.”
The second episode of the 16th season airs on Saturday (29 September) and is the first chance for viewers to vote for their favourite couple.