Disciplines: Pole Vault, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump.
Years competing in Masters: 19 years (pole vault)
Age group: 65-69
It’s hard to choose, but my first world Championships in 2003 were really memorable. They were in Puerto Rico, which is a magical place anyway and we had a great time. I was having a drama of a competition and I remember my great friend and mentor Allan Williams stepped in and helped me get it together. I ended up jumping 2m 90cm to win gold and take my first World title.
Since then, it would be the World Championships in Australia in 2016. I had had surgery for breast cancer just 10 weeks before the event and was still hoping to compete. My surgeon found a way to do the operation that meant I was still able compete. She did a brilliant job, because I went on to win and set a championship record of 2m 75cm. I’d say that was my proudest moment because it was such an all round achievement. My surgeon still follows my achievements now through our yearly check ups, in fact that’s where we always start when we meet up. When I had bowel cancer a couple of years later, she told my new surgeon all about the pole vaulting, so now he always wants to know how I am doing.
I remember my very first pole vault competition in 2000 well, but for all the wrong reasons, because I no-heighted. I just bottled it, I stood on the runway and I thought “I don’t know how to do this” It was just awful, I forgot everything. It was a club competition and I scored zero points!
Where it all began
I was a high jumper, long jumper and sprinter at junior school and didn’t even know what pole vault was back then. I did like jumping though and continued at County level at senior school in high jump and long jump. I joined Watford Harriers to further my athletic interest and we used to go for long runs as far as I remember. I always had good stamina so was picked for cross country and road races.
Then I stopped, got married young, and it wasn’t until I got my twin boys interested in athletics at a young age that I got involved again and they went on to join Watford Harriers. My son’s coach, Vaughan, saw me watching on and one day he said, “you’re always up there watching, why don’t you come down and give it a go". I didn’t really need much persuading, so I did, and I started training with them. That got me back and it was at one of the training sessions, that Paul saw someone Pole Vaulting and wanted to try it. I was by this time back competing for the club doing any event where there was a space, be it track or field, throwing, jumping sprinting or middle distance, then in winter, the odd cross country.
I got involved in the pole vault because, Dr Peter Ferguson, who lived nearby, who was a veteran Pole Vaulter himself offered to coach Paul. He suggested taking Paul to Bruce Hendry’s pole vault school in Bicester so I did. I’d sit there and watch, and eventually Peter suggested I give it a try. Paul wasn’t that keen on his mum joining in, so when he was away at scout camp, I took his pole and went with Peter over to Bicester and had a go. That was that, I’ve loved it ever since. Paul didn’t mind in the end because I wasn’t too bad at it! In 2012, I transferred clubs to St. Albans A.C. where I still compete and now coach pole vault to the club athletes.
Getting started in Master’s competitions
My friend Christine encouraged me to give Masters athletics a go as she had been doing masters competitions for a while and she suggested I go with her in 2001 to the British Championships at Windsor. This is where I met the wonderful Ann Wainwright, she was so elegant and graceful, and I was very inspired and she was very encouraging towards me. Ann won the competition with 2m 70cm which I thought was amazing, Christine was second and I was third, both finishing on 2m 40cm. My first European Masters event was in Pottsdam Germany in 2002, where I again competed with Ann. I loved the competition atmosphere, competed well and won with 2m 80cm, Ann came second with 2m 70cm with the reigning champion from Finland third. In 2010 in Kamloops, Canada, I decided to add in long jump and triple jump with my pole vault. In 2013 in Torino at the World Masters Games, I added high jJump, so for the first time, I did all four jumps, This went well, so two months later at the World Championships in Porto Allegre in Brazil, I won Gold in all four events.
Training or racing
Both. I love training, I love getting back to basics and starting again in the winter and I look forward to improving and getting ready for the next season. Even on a bad day I love training. I love competitions too, because you want to put everything you’ve done in your training into practice and see if you’ve made a difference. That’s the thing about pole vault, there are just so many things you can work on to improve your vault.
Outdoors or indoors
I like both. I like indoors because you haven’t got the elements to deal with. There’s no wind or rain to battle, and no sun in your eyes. Also, I like being in an indoor arena, it’s smaller and the atmosphere is better, there’s more of a buzz. In an outdoor arena we’re often just doing our own thing in differend stadiums and you can feel a bit isolated. That said, I do like competing outside on a warm day with a very slight tail wind.
All masters athletes inspire me. Last year I competed with Florence Myler in the 80’s age group and she’s just amazing. She’s really mentally young which is good, and she’s fun and just really enjoys it all.
Also, Allan Williams. Allan has been a great friend coach and fellow competitor, instilling in me ‘You have got to enjoy what you are doing’. we have been going to, and competing in, Masters competitions all over the World. He has coached me at so many competition and helped me win so many medals, several times getting me mentally focused and literally talking me over the bar. Pole vault is one of those events that you need feedback during a competition and Allan is a great coach and mentor. As well as that, he’s also a great friend to go out with and have lots of laughs.
I just think of all the things my current coach, Ian Parkinson, tells me; think tall, high knees, step off right from the very first step. Ian has worked very hard on trying to instil confidence in me and at times when I feel I am struggling, he will always give very encouraging comments and keeps me focused on being positive about our end goal. It’s a head sport, so you’ve got to try and get all aspects of the vault right to give you confidence.
Friendship and camaraderie are what it’s all about. Especially within pole vault because we are just such a close group and everyone wants everyone else to do well, whether you’re competing against them or not. I just love the friendships and meeting everyone at the events from all around the world. Honestly, It’s just great.
Utte Ritter, from Germany, is my closest rival, but she is also such a great friend and in fact we’re really good friends with all of her family. Despite being close competitors, we encourage each other, and I think that’s because we’ve known each other for so long now. It’s lovely and sums up Masters athletics.
In the short term my dream is to get back to a height I am happy with. As I've got older I've lost confidence in my abilities and that’s no good for the pole vault, I just want to get back to my heights of 2m 70cm. If I can feel confident enough to do that, then I can try and progress from there. Half the battle is the confidence.
After that, I just want to keep going as long as possible and I would love to set a world record as that is something I have never done. In my age group the record is 2m 90 (indoors) set by the American athlete, Nadine O’Connor. My coach thinks I can do that. But if not, and if I can carry on to compete in the 70-74 age group then the record stands at 2m 12cm, so I could try and aim for that! I’d love that.