â€œSo how on earth did you get into skeleton?â€ Thatâ€™s the question I definitely get asked the most. And itâ€™s a fair one- hailing from a nation with no track and few icy mountain sides, itâ€™s not the most obvious of sports for our country to excel in. But we do. With a current count of 2 golds, a silver and a bronze medal at the last 4 consecutive Olympic Games, thereâ€™s no doubt that Great Britain has hit upon a winning formula with skeleton. And thatâ€™s where my sliding story starts. …Â
Back in 2008, UK Sport launched Girls4Gold, the first nationwide talent search for potential new athletes for various sports, including skeleton. The powers that be had identified that this â€˜winning formulaâ€™ meant their new recruits would have to be fast and powerful in order to give them a fighting chance of being fast-tracked into the top echelons of the sport in the quickest time possible. The logic was: find naturally fast people; give them intensive coaching and ice time; fast track them onto the world stage.
Iâ€™ll admit, I wasnâ€™t the likeliest candidate, and this was quickly realised when I turned up at the first testing day in Bath clutching the wrong kind of spikes and probably looking very lost! I came from a sporting background, but definitely not a sprinting one- at the time, I was pursuing eventing as a career, and my only running experience had been of muddy fields in cross country races (hence the wrong spikes). Still, I put everything I had into all the tests (being naturally very competitive), and was lucky enough to get picked for the ice trials in Lillehammer the following March.
Hitting the ice for the first time was an incredible experience. The sensation of metal on ice underneath you with almost no friction and continual acceleration was completely addictive, and quickly overrode the fear of having no brakes! Not that it was plain-sailing. Trying to navigate through the immense pressures of the track with very little idea of what I was doing definitely took its toll! I hit my left wrist on the wall so hard that there were suspicions it was broken and I had to make a trip to the x-ray department in Lillehammerâ€™s hospital to make sure this wasnâ€™t the case. I also had problems with keeping my helmet from scraping along the ice in high pressure corners and as a result my chin was so badly bruised by the end of the trip that I took to disguising it behind an oversized scarf!
Nevertheless, a combination of fast learning, sheer determination and lots of painkillers saw me through the trip, and when I got home I found out that I had made it onto the skeleton programme. This meant relocation to their elite training centre in Bath and a totally new direction in life. Giving up riding wasnâ€™t easy. Iâ€™d lived around horses since I was born and couldnâ€™t imagine them not being a part of my life anymore. Still, I consoled myself that I was leaving one adrenaline sport for another, and relished the chance to make the GB squad.
Training in Bath was another culture shock. Having come from a sport where everything is done outdoors, the gym was a completely new concept to me (let alone the weights area). My initial trepidation left me as I was thrown full speed into an intensive training regime that often comprised 3 sessions per day, 2 of them being weightlifting. My body didnâ€™t know what was going on, and I quickly gained around 10kg of muscle! Before we knew it, it was winter again, and we set off round the world to start our intensive ice education.
Five years later, and I look back on that time with some fond memories. It has been by no means easy, but my experience across the past winters, good and bad, has shaped me into the athlete I am today. The gym is now my second home, and I would pick lifting over running through muddy fields any day now! Iâ€™ve steadily worked my way up the competition circuits and world rankings, with a great team of coaches around me, and was thrilled to take victory in the GB selection races in October this year.
In the current build up to my debut world cup season, I have reflected quite a lot on the intervening years (two seasons on Europa Cup, two on the Intercontinental cup circuit and one Junior World Championships). Itâ€™s so easy to get engrossed in the details of performance (and believe me, there are many in skeleton!) and forget to enjoy the bigger picture of competing for your country in some beautiful locations around the world. So this is what I am aiming to take with me by way of sentiment as I prepare for the first world cup of my career- donâ€™t forget to relax and enjoy the ride.
Picture – Laura Deas – credit Alain Dupere – all rights reserved