TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
Today as I sit and watch the indoor athletics World Championships with the sad news of Sir Roger Bannister's passing I am finally ready to say out loud that I am officially retiring from a 20-year international athletics career, having first represented my country at age 15. I have represented two Nations (England – oops, and Scotland, and Great Britain but I don’t think that counts as three), in two different events (long jump and pole vault), competed in 15 different countries and it’s been a wild ride!
I have been putting off this announcement as I have found it quite hard to come to terms with. I was hoping to be able to go out on a high after a third Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but like all the best laid plans life had other ideas!
After finding out I was jumping on only half a patella tendon in June last year, surgery put an end to my season and whilst a did everything I could to come back from this, with only one qualifying standard for the games I was not selected to represent Scotland again.
So, now it is time to reflect and then look to the future. I find it hard to look back in pride on a career in which I never felt I reached my potential, injuries seemed to hold me back at every turn. But what I am deeply proud of is my tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity. Over and over again I picked myself up and put myself back in the line of fire. I found I had a depth of strength and belief over and above anything I could have imagined. And more importantly I had support and love from friends, family and fellow athletes beyond what I deserve, which got me through the dark times. And I think this is really what sport does for us, whether you win Olympic golds or no-height at 2 consecutive Commonwealth games – it shows you the best in people and it teaches you who you really are – as my mum has constantly said to me - it’s all character building! On top of which I have had so much fun on the way, met some really inspirational people, been to places and had experiences that I know others dream of and for which I am eternally grateful.
No athlete has any kind of success alone, and there is a whole lot of people who have made it possible for me to be me. Firstly and most obviously my mum has been my most avid and consistent cheerleader my whole life (even if she can’t actually watch me vault), she’s been there through everything from the very start, driving me up and down the country to competitions, (all the way to Gateshead for me to do 3 no-jumps is a particular favourite story of hers- lucky she wasn't in Delhi eh?!), celebrating and commiserating (unfortunately not in equal measure!). My big bro has been a star, has taken me in and looked after me time and time again, even though he doesn’t watch me vault as he believes he has a no height curse (he did come to Glasgow by the way – just saying!). Whilst I have had several coaches along the way, I would especially like to mention the late and great Trevor Marsay, without whom I would have quit athletics at age 14 I reckon. He did an amazing thing for teenagers in this sport, keeping them in athletics and bringing them through to senior level, showing them what it takes to be a professional athlete and opening their eyes to a real possibility of an athletics career. I am only one of a host of young athletes that he supported over the years and I miss him terribly.
I would also like to thank Scott Simpson for kicking off this whole pole vault obsession, I blame you entirely! There are many many other people - coaches, best friends (Elli and Lauryn) colleagues, school teachers, athletics clubs and training partners (Max, Rich, Ally, Paul) as well as the extremely generous Wong family (who believed in me enough to sponsor me for a whole year) that have made this journey possible and so incredible, but I need to put some words down about my long-suffering and amazing husband Shane.
Since meeting Shane in 2011, he has never ever stopped believing in my ability, even when I didn’t. He has literally never questioned that all my dreams could come true and that success was just around the corner for me if I could keep going. He is a constant source of motivation and positivity – and physiotherapy skills! He rehabbed me from 2 injuries about which I was told I would never recover enough to be able to vault again, so without him I would have had to retire years ago. He is a fantastic physio who truly loves the sport and the athletes. I am so proud of him and will never be able to repay the physio bill!
This would get very dull very quickly if I named every single person who made a difference to my athletics, who did something significant for me, perhaps that they don’t even know about. But I hope you understand that an athlete is made from a stadium full of people, and I am humbled by the thought of such support.
This sport has brought me some absolutely amazing highs and some unbelievably comical lows - none better than representing Scotland in Glasgow not 20 miles away from where my Dad was born. Technically this performance was a no height and being involved in that competition was a whole crazy experience for a totally different reason (torrential rain doesn’t even cover it) – but I did actually clear the bar (before my pole knocked it off) and hearing that unbelievable Hampden roar will stay with me forever – I know Dad was looking down at that! I also chased down Usain Bolt on his lap of honour to show him my broken pole – classy!
So, I am not retiring as Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion but I am retiring as Scottish record holder and while I would have liked to have put that record a little more out of sight I am non-the-less very proud to have my name in the record books. I hope that in any kind of small way my achievements and ferocity might inspire someone somewhere, especially girls in sport about which I am passionate. Use me as an example for good or bad but either way use me - I would like to think I have contributed to the majestic sport of pole vault and athletics in general, which has given me so much.
It has been a privilege to have been able to chase this athletic dream for so long. I say chase because it has been a pursuit; a quest; a hunt; and it has not come easy. Don’t get me wrong - it has not been a sacrifice – how could all this opportunity be a sacrifice? I chose to do it and I can’t believe I was so lucky as to have the talent and ability for an athletics career to be a reality. But unfortunately, we can’t all be Olympic medal winners. However, on reflection I think if I am not complete without an Olympic medal, I won’t be complete with one and I am always reminded of this verse from the poem by Lord Tennyson when I think of my last few years;
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
So it was not the glittering athletics career I was so sure I would have as an 8 year old watching Linford Christie win Olympic gold in Barcelona – and yes it hurt terribly sometimes, but I am no worse off for trying. Fear of failure is a crippling adversary, but my biggest achievement is that I never gave in to it, as I have seen others do. It didn't break me, I am still whole and better off for it. This is the example I want to be.
I encourage everyone to strive, to seek and to hunt down their dreams, never give up, don’t take no for an answer, have courage - and girls in sport, go out there and be fierce! I have come to believe victory lies in the pursuit. Thank you everyone, it has been blast!