In my local park in East London, a mile away from what would become the 2012 Olympic stadium, I played from sun up to sun set. It was in those fun filled days, that the seeds of my craft were planted which would eventually turn into the unrelenting pursuit of perfecting the art of running one lap of the track quicker than anyone else.
I retired from Athletics as a 4-time Olympian with an Olympic Gold, Silver, and 2 Bronze medals; I was World Champion twice and secured a medal at every World Championship I participated in, a statistic met by only 3 athletes in the world ever. With Commonwealth gold and bronze medals, and a host of Indoor medals I had become one of the most decorated female athletes in Britain.
Life was ordinary, but memorable growing up as the second child of eight. It was always busy, always hectic, but always a lot of fun.
We played outside on bikes, roller skates, or skateboards. I grew up skipping, climbing trees, and playing football. I could think of nothing better than to be outside, running around, and creating adventures. I never understood the power of sport as a kid; I was happy to simply enjoy the freedom of play.
Formal appreciation of organised sport came much later in my teens.
Netball was my first sporting obsession and I played for my school team, club, and county. I was proud to reach my dream of playing internationally, playing for both the under 17 and under 19 England netball teams. I loved playing netball, the elements of agility, speed and coordination were amazing skills I enjoyed working hard to improve. I absorbed the lessons that came about from being in a team. My interest in athletics grew initially as a way for me to improve my ability as a netball player. I joined the Newham & Essex Beagles Athletics Club, where, as no one else wanted to run it, I became the go-to for 400m. Funnily enough, despite being reluctant to run 400m, I was quite content not to attempt any other event; deep down I knew I had found my home.
When I began my undergraduate degree at University College London (UCL) in 2002 I then had the crucial task of weaving together both my obligations to sports and my academics. There were never enough hours in the day to train for netball, athletics and complete my essays!
I was a ‘netball player’ when I won my first and I think most important medal at the European Junior Championships in the 400m. The following year as an ‘athlete’, I represented Team GB at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and finished top 10 in the world. In 2005, I competed at the World Championships in Helsinki, winning bronze in the 4x400m relay. I graduated in the same year with a degree in Linguistics from UCL.
I am still confused about how I started my degree programme as a netball player but upon graduation, was an Olympian in a completely different sport, but it pays homage to the adage the one never really knows what opportunities lie around the corner.
My professional athletics career kicked off at this point. University was behind me and I wanted to try out the athlete life; train full time, compete with the best, and see how far I could go.
The 15 years of athletics that ensued were filled with the sharp rises of achievement and the steep falls of disappointment. My sporting life was the full spectrum of experiences – winning Olympic Gold, breaking a 30-year British record, disqualification from a false start, suspension for a whereabouts violation, injuries, the pressure of competing in an Olympics in my home town as the defending champion, being Team captain of a world championship team – there was no shortages of frustrations and challenges, but in all, I adapted, maintained focused, stayed positive and arrived at every occasion prepared as best as possible for what lay ahead.
Then, there came a point where I began to see the bright of the lights beyond the track and my passion dimmed for athletics. I knew that I could not have the same enthusiasm and dedication for my sport and in 2018 I knew it was time to bring the curtain down on my athletics career.
Sport was where I found my voice. It shaped, challenged, and taught me. Sport brought out the very best version of myself. The underlying sense of inquisitiveness and adventure that lured me into sport as a youngster and motivated my sporting career has never left, so with retirement, I continue to take chances, explore and push myself.
My first goal post track was to engage in a professional practice that developed me away from sport. Thankfully for me, an interesting encounter with QC set me on my legal journey: and I obtained a Law degree and subsequently worked at Squire Patton Boggs as a paralegal a job I had thoroughly enjoyed and one that was crucial for my legal development and understanding.
Succeeding at the elite end of a pressurised, highly competitive, highly visible industry has given me a unique set of skills, knowledge and experience. My second goal then has been to establish a performance consultancy business to provide bespoke coaching and mentoring. I currently have an exciting roster of clients including individual athletes, sporting federations, educational establishments, councils and corporate environments.
Giving back is a significant goal of mine and I am extremely proud of the Lloyd Cowan’s Bursary which I was integral in helping to set up to remember my coach who sadly passed away in 2021. It is a fitting way to acknowledge all he had done in the sport and his passion for helping others. I am honoured to continue supporting others in his name.
As an elite performer, it was rare I ever had all the answers or the full picture, instead I made the absolute most out of what I had, leaned into the experiences, took away the lessons and against adversity and the odds I always found a way to keep it moving! It is this sense of curiosity and discovery I know will keep driving me forward to the new opportunities lying ahead.
Still, we move.