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Catching up with... Sophie Kamlish

Sophie Kamlish Sophie Kamlish studied BA Illustration & Animation and was an athlete on the Sports Performance Programme at Kingston University, graduating in 2019. Sophie is a freelance artist who has animated for Channel 4's Paralympic social media coverage and created BBC artwork inspired by the film Then Barbara Met Alan. Sophie is a three-time British Paralympian who has competed in sprint events in London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021.

What are your favourite moments from London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021?

They were all such different experiences, all taking place shortly after my 16th, 20th and 25th birthdays. I think it's impossible for any Paralympics to compare to a home games, the roar of the crowd for every GB athlete was just incredible. I'd been using a running blade for under a year so to make it into both of my finals in front of a home crowd was so exciting, I think that is when I was well and truly indoctrinated into the cult of athletics!

Rio was where I got my first world record in the 100m, but I also came fourth in the final later that day so the whole thing was a bittersweet experience. However, I was able to redeem myself the next year with a new world record and a gold medal in the London 2017 World Championships. I think that was greatly in part to the lessons I learnt in Rio 2016.

Tokyo 2021 was obviously such a weird one, no crowds in the stadium, no family able to come and watch, doing a Covid test every morning, and struggling to hear people speak in the dining hall because of all the plastic screens. Though I'm not happy with my performance there, I had a lovely group of friends in the village and appreciate the support and camaraderie I felt from them (even though, thanks to Covid, many had to leave early!).

What are you looking forward to about Paris 2024?

This will be the first time I watch the Paralympics from home, and not the Paralympic village! I can't wait to watch my friends and teammates compete in Athletics. It will be exciting to see if Markus Rehm will beat his T64 Long Jump world record. I'm also looking forward to being able to see the sports that don't get TV coverage throughout the rest of the year, such as Boccia, Wheelchair Fencing and Wheelchair Basketball. Of course, watching the Olympic warm-up act will be great fun as well; Gymnastics, Climbing and Skateboarding will definitely have me hooked.

You have worked on a range of creative commissions, what have been your highlights?

I've recently done my first ever mural design for Bupa Dental, celebrating 25 years in dentistry. It was so exciting to see my work take up an entire wall, as I've been so used to it being on a computer screen or a drawing book for my entire career. They've been great as clients as well, and it's been so encouraging to see how much they embrace diversity within illustration.

I've also had the chance to do some animating for a documentary that will be coming out later this year. The production company made sure that at least 50% of the crew were disabled, which is so cool and an honour to be part of. I learnt so much and enjoyed being a member of a team, as I am so often animating completely on my own.

Not all my work is commissioned, some is completely self-directed - I've been obsessed with making and decorating ceramic plates. I sell them online and at market, it's so rewarding knowing that pieces of your work are in people's homes being used to eat from, or as decorative art.

What have been challenges and rewards of a career in sports and illustration/animation?

I think the biggest challenge with an athletics career is how much it can make you miss out on things; social events over the weekend are eclipsed by competing, early nights take precedent when you have training the next day and travelling around the country/world just to get a time that doesn't count because of wind speed can be frustrating!

However, I'm lucky to have very understanding friends outside the world of sport who have never made me feel guilty for having to miss things. I've also made amazing friends within the sport, who I'd never have met otherwise.

Being an athlete has also helped in my illustration/animation career as it's resulted in a strong work ethic, and I've never had the time to even think about procrastinating. Just like being an athlete, being a freelance illustrator and animator is a little financially precarious, but it's rewarding because I know for a fact there is no other job I could do! I love drawing so much and always have done, being able to do it as a career is a privilege.

What tools have helped you balance your career in illustration/animation and sports?

When I started taking sport seriously at age 15 I was doing my GCSEs, this kick-started me into becoming very organised, and I gradually improved throughout my A Levels and a foundation course. By the time I started at Kingston just after a gap year and competing in Rio 2016 I was ready to juggle higher education, being a full-time athlete, and living away from home for the first time.

My main tools are flexible to-do lists, overestimating how long things actually take, making sure I start working as soon as I have been given an assignment/commission and never, ever waiting until the last minute before a deadline to start something.

I think my time at Kingston really helped me hone my ability to live two separate lives that actually complement each other pretty well. After an evening training session I knew I'd be too tired to work, so that encouraged me to avoid procrastinating during the day, which has been very helpful after graduation.

What are your favourite memories as a Kingston student?

I enjoyed my whole time at Kingston. My favourite memories are probably just when my friends and I would all work in the third-year studio. It would usually be on different projects, but it was invaluable to have immediate feedback from other people whose work you love and are inspired by. I really miss that co-working space now that I've left.

Tell us something no one would guess about you.

I have a terrible sense of direction. I will literally get lost on a train if I go to the loo, I'll have no clue which direction I came from and where my seat is located. It's probably a good thing I only have to run 100m in a straight line, it's pretty hard to get lost on a running track.

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