Britain’s elite athletes have named para-cyclist Fran Brown as their female 2023 Athletes’ Athlete of the Year.
Having been nominated by a teammate, Fran then topped a vote of Britain’s current and former World Class Programme athletes to decide their Athlete of the Year. Para-rower Gregg Stevenson won the men’s award.
Fran is a double para-climbing world champion (2012 and 2014) and para-triathlon world champion (2019) but switched to para-cycling after the 2021 Paralympics. In just her second full year in the sport, she became the most decorated athlete at the 2023 UCI Para Cycling World Championships.
She won five golds and one silver – and set an individual pursuit world record – despite preparing and competing with cracked ribs. Her nominator said: “I don’t think there is any athlete in the country who has won so consistently as Fran throughout 2023.”
Speaking about her award, Fran said: “It’s just amazing to think that my fellow athletes would take the time to vote for me, but also I respect every athlete on a World Class Programme regardless of the level they’re at. Just being part of that collective is a massive achievement and a massive honour.
“I always feel really proud to be on a World Class Programme, pull on a kit and represent my country. The fact other people who’ve had that honour and have achieved that took the time to consider I have achieved something special within the last year is incredible. I’m blown away.
“I always feel a bit that I’m not your average athlete: I’m a little bit older, a bit off the wall, my background hasn’t been in one sport for ever, and I’m not really ingrained within the culture of a sport. So to have that nod from athletes that have grown up in a system or have a ‘normal’ lifespan in a sport is incredible.”
Fran dislocated three vertebrae in her neck in an accident at work, resulting in a c4 spinal cord injury. She became a highly successful para-climber and even performed as an aerialist in the 2012 Opening Ceremony. Inspired by the athletes she saw, Fran decided to pursue a Paralympic sport by switching to triathlon and becoming both world champion and a Paralympian.
Her transition into cycling followed a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, but an error during an operation in January 2023 meant she couldn’t train or work in the gym properly for nine months until surgery in September. Having surpassed her expectations for the World Championships, Fran is now trying to collect as many points in the build-up to Paris as possible.
It was a year to be proud of for wider elite British sport too, with athletes excelling in and out of competition, breaking new records, overcoming personal adversity, and using their positions to better the sporting world. Nominations were made not just for competitive success, but also for those athletes who supported or inspired others in elite sport throughout the year.
We’d therefore like to congratulate Fran and Gregg on winning this award, but also their fellow nominees: Joe Clarke (canoeing), Emma Finucane (cycling), Jessica Gadirova (gymnastics), Chris Hunt Skelley (para-judo), Beth Potter (triathlon), Shah Rashid (wheelchair fencing), Lucy Renshall (judo), Matt Richards (swimming), Bradly Sinden (taekwondo) and Maisie Summers-Newton (para-swimming).