I first took up running while I was still at my primary school. My Mum would regularly drop my older brother Josh off at the cross-country club on Tuesday mornings. Josh had always been, and is still considered to be, the sporty one in the family, and I had spent a lot of my early years trying to be an elegant ballet dancer! My Mum decided that a bit of running would be good for me and so I swapped my satin ballet shoes for something less graceful!
However it was on those cold and frosty mornings, in the park with my school friends, where I realised that I would much rather run around muddy fields……. don't ask me why! My early sessions were spent jogging and chatting; it was a good way to start the day socially. My parents noted that I might be quite reasonable at this, if I could just stopped talking for a while…
The running habit grew slowly but surely and not long after that I joined my first running club, Dorking and Mole Valley; such a great place to begin to nurture a love of running.
Both Josh and I eventually joined Aldershot, Farnham and District Athletic Club, me in 2006, where I met my current coach, Mick Woods. Since then I have never looked back.
I seemed to have moved on fairly quickly, experiencing my first taste of success by winning my first National Cross Country in early 2007. I started to realise that for me running wasn't simply a career choice or a hobby… it was very fast becoming a way of life. It was one which both my family and friends became extremely supportive of, and for that, I am so very grateful.
Despite being fortunate enough to have experienced a lot of success in my early years as an athlete, the road for me has not always been smooth. It was during my first year with Aldershot that I was diagnosed with Scoliosis – a medical condition which means that I have a fairly spectacular curvature of the spine. It came with a delightful rotation, which meant that some of my basic movements were rather tricky to negotiate; swinging my arms freely, for example.
In my case the Scoliosis is a genetic condition and is not related to running at all. This diagnosis initially meant nothing to me – it was unnoticeable and it didn't seem to affect me in the slightest.
However in 2008 I discovered that my condition had declined and I was now the proud owner of two curves of 27 and 34 degrees, displayed as a rather distorted 'S' shape on the X-ray. My consultant told me that I would have to wear a body brace to support my back as I completed my adolescent growth spurt. I was also told that I might not be able to spend enough time out of the brace each week to continue training. This was the first time in my life where I was struck silent. In that split second I decided I would never let anyone tell me that there was anything that was out of my reach. My mum helped me to wipe away the tears, we talked the consultant through the weekly training regime, that I was committed to at that time, and he agreed that I could come out of the brace for a total of 10 hours each week to train and to race. My attitude changed quickly to one of, 'the sooner the brace is on, the sooner it will be off…'
I wore the brace for the next three years of my life for up to 23 hours each day. For the hour that I was allowed out of the brace I decided to dedicate to my training... my way of life. From then on, every time I was able to take the brace off and go for a run, I felt an elation of freedom and comfort – it was the only point in my day where I wasn't restricted by a fibre glass corset, and I loved my running even more! At times I found the brace embarrassing. As a teenager it was never considered 'cool' having to ask your Mum to tie up your shoelaces as you couldn't bend over, or having a basketball thrown at you by accident in a PE lesson... and it bouncing straight back off you again because of the protective guard I had fitted around me! I struggled to find clothes that would look even half decent over my body brace... now affectionately named Brian!
Through the guidance, support and nurturing that my coach Mick has given me, I have been able to keep moving forwards and progressing as an athlete. I have now added 5 more consecutive National Cross Country titles to that very first one in 2007 and am proud to say that I have also brought home the UK Inter-Counties titles since 2007. More recently, I have gained really valuable international experience by running for Great Britain on both the track and the country. My most memorable experience would be winning a Bronze medal at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in the 3000m – As a young middle distance athlete it has become easy to assume that a medal at a World Championship is not within reach due to so much dominance from countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. However now I feel that for me that perspective has changed and I cannot wait to face this challenge again.
I believe that having had a significant barrier in front of me has made me stronger and, as my Dad is always saying –'mental strength is where your success lies'. I now find myself well positioned to face the future, with all the essential ingredients safely in my tool bag:
...A very committed work ethic, self-belief, an excellent coach, a supportive family and a great circle of friends, some undeniably helpful sponsorship and my future... which I intend to make the most of!