Life doesn’t always go to plan.
At a time during my career I was the best in the world for my age, that was a pretty big deal and an achievement I’ll forever be proud of.
The sport has enabled me to meet amazing people, make friends for life, visit countries I wouldn’t have traveled to, represented my country and created the best memories.
The most significant memories being the first times, a few of the standouts include:
Representing Luton at Street Athletics in the middle of Manchester in 2009. My mum and I stayed over and met Tyson Gay, Kim Collins, Debbie Ferguson, Shawn Crawford and Felix Sánchez, I remember being completely star struck. I won the race and received my first ever kit drop which included my first pair of Nike spikes, I was blown away and so excited by it all.
In 2010, I competed indoors over 60m for the first time at Lee Valley, my coaches (Jane Dixon & Craig Andrew) couldn’t attend, so it was just my mum, dad and I. It was my first experience warming up and preparing for a competition on my own and was pretty nervous. However, I won and became the South of England Indoor Champion. A few weeks later I won my first indoor national title at the England Champs over the 200m. And represented my county of Bedfordshire at English Schools, that was my first time staying away with a team and I came away with the silver medal over the 200m. Sky Sports covered English Schools back then, which was my first experience of mainstream media being present at a competition.
In 2011, I moved up to the 300’s. I ran 38.99secs (my first time going sub 39) at England age group indoor champs and spent the rest of the outdoor season trying to go sub 39 again, it didn’t happen till my very last comp of the year at the EAL final in Bury St Edmunds. Funny story, I asked Jane if I could take it “easy” I can’t quite remember my reasoning for that question but Jane obviously said no and told me that she didn’t drive all the way to Essex for me to take it easy! This has to be up there with a memory that makes me smile because I ran the race and ran it pretty well. I remember it felt like hours before the results appeared and when I saw that I had run 38.60secs I was elated! I screamed and jumped for joy, at last I had run sub 39 outdoors in my final 300m of that season! A few days later I ran my first 400m at Watford Open; I came in at 56.60secs from what I can remember (I was 15 so we’re talking 10 years ago now) it didn’t feel too bad, little did I know my focus would end up being the 400m.
In 2012 I doubled up over the 200 and 300m for the very first (and last) time at our national age group indoor champs, I won the 300 and got bronze in the 200m. The 300m final was literally 20mins before the 200m final; I wasn’t able to return to the warm up area as I had to go straight to the final call room ahead of the 200, the good old days when I could recover pretty quickly! In May, I competed in the London Olympic Stadium at UK School Games, the final event before the Olympic Games took place. I’m smiling whilst I write this because it was a massive deal being one of the last few athletes to run on the track before the likes of Usain Bolt and other Olympians would a few months later. I ran 38.43secs which at the time was the fastest electronic time for a 15 year old girl in the UK and a Stadium record. I believe the Stadium record stood for a little while as the 300m isn’t a championship event for senior athletes. I told everyone that I held a Stadium record not just in any Stadium but the Olympic stadium! In the July of that year I sustained my first serious injury, I tore my hamstring during my 300m heat at English Schools and fell to the floor, I was in floods of tears and needed wheel-chairing off the track.
I like to think of 2013 as a breakthrough year, I focused mainly on the 400m and performed well. As my season opener I raced at a league match for my club and ran a big PB of 54.40secs, I had no awareness of what that time meant. And it wasn’t until my friends ran to inform me that I had just ran the qualifying standard for the World Youth Championships! Again, I’m smiling because the ignorance kept things so pure. It’s only on reflection, I realise that I ran with a free mind, being naive made getting from A to B as fast as I possibly could relatively easily, I had no other stressors and things were so simple.
I represented Great Britain Juniors for the very first time at Loughborough International a few weeks later. And was selected to represent England Schools at ISF World Schools Championships in Czech Republic, that was my first time going abroad to compete, I had the honour of being the girls team captain and delivered the World Schools Oath at the closing ceremony (I was more nervous speaking in front of everyone than racing itself). Whilst out in Czech Republic I received a call from British Athletics stating that I’ve been selected to represent Great Britain at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine the following month. I remember being super excited and tried on every single piece of clothing when the suitcase of kit arrived.
At World’s everything went up a level: a bigger team, more international athletes, a bigger stadium and greater media presence. Our suitcases didn’t make it to the connecting flight and didn’t arrive until a couple of days after we landed in Ukraine, the team staff bought us toiletries and underwear and even got permission for us to compete in plain vests just in case our GB kit didn’t arrive before the champs started. Luckily, our luggage turned up just in time, the relief even brought people to tears!
A few of us had media training with Ato Boldon and I attended my first ever press conference which was a good experience. It was my first time running three rounds (heat, semi’s & finals) at a championships, I came into the champs ranked 8th in the world with a PB of 53.98secs. Before the final I was a bag of nerves, my coach reassured me that I was meant to be there and had nothing to worry about. I ended up winning and became the IAAF World Youth Champion in a time of 52.77secs. It felt like paparrazi when I crossed the finish line, as they all gathered around me and took lots of photos. I also experienced my very first drug test! I was buzzing and couldn’t sleep that night, I definitely smiled for at least a week or two after returning home. I had won the biggest race of my career so far and was on cloud nine! It was my first time on the podium having the national anthem play for me too! I was so proud not only because it was my first season moving up from the 300’s and focusing on the 400’s, but where I was injured in 2012 our main goal for 2013 was to remain injury free. I surpassed everyone’s expectations, mine included and to become the champ was such a huge achievement for us all.
As a 25 year old woman, this achievement still remains the biggest of my career to date. It’s been 8 years and I would have never imagined my journey being as turbulent as it has since then.
Post World Youths I gained more attention: offers from colleges in the states came through, I was on the Futures Programme which is funded support from British Athletics and I also signed my first professional contract with Adidas. I spent the 2014 season managing my hamstring injury the best we could whilst still trying to race as wisely as possible. I didn’t qualify for World Juniors in the individual 400m but got selected for the relay. World Juniors was held in Eugene, Oregon that was my first time to America. World juniors was definitely a step up from World Youths (the Americans really don’t come to play!) Lloyd Cowan was the best relay coach, he knew what to say and how to get the best out of us . We came away with a silver medal, running the 2nd fastest time by a GB junior quartet over the 4x400m, and taking the lap of honor with the girls was a great moment.
I don’t want to brush over the next few years, despite not achieving the successes I envisaged for myself on the track, a few significant things did happen and has influenced my decision to press pause.
I started university in 2014, had coaching complications and then had a stress fracture in my tibia which disrupted my training and the season was cut short. I spent a very long time rehabbing and regaining general and then competitive fitness. 2015/16 were definitely the most testing and difficult periods for me. I was no longer that naive athlete and I had to figure out how to deal with injury, poor performance and manage expectations. My peers were going to senior champs and I was at home watching them on social media and on the TV. This was the first time I began comparing myself and experienced feelings of envy and jealousy.
In 2017, I moved back home to complete my placement year and I was in an environment I thrived in. I finally made it back on the podium at a national level, getting a silver at our National U23 champs.
I was diagnosed with Lupus in early 2018, initially it didn’t have such an impact on my ability to train but forced me to be more mindful of my exposure to the sun and UV rays. I was required to change my behaviour by remaining in the shade, wearing long sleeve and high neck tops, wearing a cap at all times, use an umbrella and wear factor 50 all year round (yes, including the winter) and to top it up throughout the day.
In 2018, I graduated from university and decided to completely focus on athletics for the next few years without the stress of education or full time work.
There were no more age group champs for me in 2019 as I was a fully fledged senior athlete; I raced around Europe and ran 53.91secs, that was my first time going sub 54secs in 5 years! I also forgot to mention, I began suffering with Achilles tendinitis in 2017 and every year since then it’s altered my training in some capacity. I now know the Lupus plays a role in the inflammation I experience in my Achilles tendon.
We opted for no indoors in 2020 and then the pandemic hit. I had no opportunities to compete until much later in the season, however my Achilles became inflamed and I wasn’t in a position to race.
Now we are here in 2021 and for the first time in over 13 years I’ve decided that athletics is no longer a priority. I’m taking a step back.
It’s taught me so much but my desire for the sport is diminishing and I don’t want to grow to resent it. Before that happens I am pressing pause.
I have been dealing with a very specific problem over the last 9 months and it’s the very reason for my decision to take a break from the sport.
This post would be extremely lengthy if I went into it all at once so I’m going to explain the situation in two parts.
I wrote this back in May in the early hours of the morning and cried, not because I was sad, frustrated or angry (I’ve been and done all of that). It was because I hadn’t really reflected on those first time memories in that way; they are so pure and reminiscing about them made me feel quite emotional.