Isobel Pooley - A Leap Above The Rest

Written by Foxley 20/04/2016 0 Comment(s) News, All Categories,

Isobel Pooley. Isobel Pooley

In collaboration with SportsAid, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary at Kensington Palace on Thursday 9 June, The Foxley Docket sat down with one of the charity’s successful award recipients, Isobel Pooley. SportsAid have four decades’ worth of experience in helping the biggest household names in sport in the early stages of their career. Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Tom Daley, Bradley Wiggins, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Chris Hoy, Steve Redgrave and Ellie Simmonds are just a few previous recipients of SportsAid Awards.

No exception to this trend, Pooley is a 24 year old athlete with strong prospects to represent Great Britain at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She won a silver medal at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games for her high jump abilities. We discussed her career, how SportsAid has helped in her pursuit of the gold, and what it can do for other young athletes.

The Foxley Docket: To begin with, introduce yourself and give us a little bit about what you do.

Isobel Pooley: I’m an international high jumper, I’ve been jumping since I was 13.  The international side took off at 18 while attending the University of Nottingham, where I studied Animal Science.

TFD: You’re a Track and Field athlete, specialising in High Jump. How did your passion for sports begin?

IP: When I was a child, I had so much energy and I absolutely loved running around. I used to build obstacles in my back garden to jump over. I also loved horse riding and dog training, so the idea of jumping over things, whether it was animals or myself, appealed to me massively. The thrill of athletics struck a chord with me from a very young age; I discovered high jump in a PE lesson at school at the age of 13. From that point onward, I knew it was the sport for me. Being tall, I was too uncoordinated and gangly to be good at anything else, which I found quite depressing, so I was grateful when it turned around and I was able to turn that personal attribute into an asset.

TFD: At what point did you realise that High Jump was something you could make a name for yourself in?

IP: It would’ve been in the year before I started University. I’d focused on being a vet and I had it in my mind that that would become my job and my life before I realised that there was a whole sporty world out there opening up all around me. Being involved with SportsAid and Lloyd’s Bank, there were so many different big companies which offered me the support I needed to take my ability to the next level. I was starting to realise that studying at university was something that I wanted to do; I didn’t need to get a job and start an academic career straight after uni - there was the option to become a professional athlete, if I could just find the financial support that I needed to get there.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge poses for a group photograph as she attends a SportsAid athlete workshop.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge poses for a group photograph as she attends a SportsAid athlete workshop

TFD: You were trained by Fayyad ‘Fuzz’ Ahmed and invited to join a group featuring the likes of Robbie Grabarz, Jonathan Broom-Edwards and Marco Fassinotti. How did this collaboration begin and how did it feel to join the ranks of such prestigious athletes?

IP: This was back in 2011, when I attended a meeting for Olympic long list athletes, so I hadn’t actually been approached at that point. I’d left my old training environment in Aldershot in Hampshire. I’d come to this new elite environment in Loughborough and found myself without a coach or a solid training structure. There were so many inspirational people around that I knew something good would happen. I had this conversation with the head coach at UK Athletics, who put me in touch with Fuzz, a former high jumper himself (he now goes by Fuzz Caan), and he’s been my coach ever since - it’s coming up to 4 and a half years now. I was able to witness Robbie’s success first hand, watching his ascendance towards winning an Olympic medal in 2012. That was so spectacular to be a part of, as I’d been training with him that Winter. This showed me first hand what it takes for an athlete to become an Olympic star and a British legend

TFD: You won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Can you talk us through what was going through your mind when you were lining up to jump, and when you found yourself stood on the podium?

IP: I’d had a really good preparation coming up to the Commonwealth - my coach had told me where I should be finishing, based on my potential and ability that he’d seen, so he told me I should be targeting a medal. In the months leading up to the games, I had the chance to get my head around that as a concept which made it easier as a task to jump and enjoy it. The crowd was enthusiastic and the stadium atmosphere was wonderful which made it a pleasure to perform - all I had to do was run and jump and the rest sorted itself out. The consequences have been amazing; to do well at a major event has been incredible, and it really gave me a hunger for medals at future events. On podium, I felt a mix of slight disbelief and a feeling of real satisfaction, that this moment was where my journey had led me. It made me realise that it wasn’t over; that there were imperfections which I could always improve upon and elevate myself to achieve greater success later in the season. I broke the British Outdoor Record 3 weeks later in Eberstadt, Germany, with 1 metre 96 - I was proved right I hadn’t done everything I was capable of at that point.

TFD: You’re training for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics - how are you preparing for these? Are you apprehensive about any aspects of these events?

IP: I’m not apprehensive, as there’s so much support around the Olympic team. So much preparation goes on to ensure smoothest experience and success. It’s astonishing  how much logistical thought has gone into it already, and I think this will be evident just how much preparation has gone into it by the British Olympic Association and  the International Olympic Association. The guys over in Rio really put in the groundwork to ensure you can get there smoothly and that everything goes perfectly.

Taken at SportsAid's athlete workshop with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. Taken at SportsAid's athlete workshop with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge

TFD: How did your association with SportsAid begin?

IP: When I was fairly young, I had my application approved and received the letter to say I’d be receiving money. This news was incredibly well received at that point because we were incurring travel costs for competitions, equipment, physiotherapy and sports massages. For someone so tall, I needed a lot of therapy to maintain my body injury free. My parents struggled to cover this on top of everything else they were paying for. Any contribution financially, no matter how small, made a huge difference. More than anything, it was a vote of confidence to have my application accepted out of so many incredible athletes across the country. It really made me feel special, like I was the one with a unique talent and I was worth investing in. It certainly served as a real boost at a time when my career could’ve gone 1 of 2 ways, and it really helped my career move in an upward direction.

TFD: In your opinion, how has the involvement of SportsAid shaped your career?

IP: Well SportsAid was responsible for my first trip to Loughborough, where I went for a workshop, which was my favourite part. There were three or four of them, and they’re always such great fun. That first trip definitely left a massive impression; to witness a world class training environment of all sports and being around such ambitious people in a facility that provided everything I could imagine and more was just incredible. In 2012, there was a workshop in an Olympic venue in London, and we got taken on a tour around the Olympic park, which was amazing. Another was at Wembley Arena, which was so cool. It’s an opportunity for athletes, parents and partners to get together and compare experiences - I think that pool of knowledge is something which is really useful. It was a great resource to have and putting us in contact with other companies, businesses and individuals who want to support sport was useful for me in terms of aligning myself with people who wanted to help support my ambition to get on the podium; people who wanted to support me so selflessly financially or just through contact. SportsAid also help with media, psychology and nutrition. They’re a long sighted organization who offer an all rounded approach, sculpting athletes from a young age to become sportspeople who could become role models for future athletes, and they gave us a role model when we needed one, in the form of former Olympic diver Leon Taylor, to name just one example.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge poses for a group photograph as she attends a SportsAid athlete workshop.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge poses for a group photograph as she attends a SportsAid athlete workshop

TFD: Speaking from experience, how can SportsAid help and build the career of young athletes looking for their assistance?

IP: It’s three things; primarily, a vote of confidence - you are worth investing in, and a charity with such a reputation and history behind it see you as part of their future, that’s a feeling that’s powerful beyond words. Secondly, the access to resources - being part of a group who can share their tips and experience and successes with you - that’s really important. Third, the grant - money is a huge barrier at many points in our careers, especially in the early days when there’s already so many costs incurred. I can tell you first hand that some sports are much more expensive than others, and people need that help otherwise they wouldn’t be able to participate in that sport anymore

TFD: You’ve met Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, who became the Patron of SportsAid in 2013; What was that like?

IP: That was in London at the Olympic Park. It was just a huge accolade for all of us as sportspeople - the feeling of it being that important, that young people were that important that Her Royal Highness wanted to get involved with it and the fact she was so genuinely inspired by being around us, it was incredible, and that admiration went both ways. We came away with a boost of confidence and appreciation of our own achievements -we had no idea that sport is so relevant to so many people. It’s not just us that care- the whole nation is behind it, and that is so powerful.

TFD: Anything you’d like to add?

IP: I’d just like to add that I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had with SportsAid in my career so far, and I hope I can give back in the future.


A special 40th anniversary dinner celebration will be held for SportsAid at Kensington Palace on Thursday 9 June. This intimate banquet will help to raise awareness and funds for SportsAid.

Find out more about SportsAid at Kensington Palace at:

SportsAid at Kensington Palace

Please contact Kimberley Goddard

SportsAid’s Major Events Manager

Email: [email protected]

Call: 0207 273 1975


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