Life’s challenges are not suppose to paralyse you, they’re suppose to help discover who you are.”
The 7th IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France 6th-10th July 2011 was a marvellous experience! I went with a great group of talented athletes and managers; we bonded so well as a team. Some came back with medals, some with personal bests and others with a great international experience and fantastic memories. It was definitely a great learning curve for me; I increased my knowledge about international travel, what to expect and be prepared for.
The trip began with a 23-hour flight to France. We all wore our compression tights and socks and got up every 2 hours to stretch and walk around. It was a lot of fun getting up and having a chat to everyone. Stopping in Bangkok gave us a break to walk on land. Most of us did a jog and sat with our legs up a wall to help with blood flow. The airport in Bangkok was amazing; the structure was like none we’d ever seen.
The long flight from Bangkok to Paris took 13 hours, it was expected that we should sleep on that flight however some struggled, especially the people in the middle seat with nothing to lean on. I was lucky to be next to the window and got around 5 hours sleep. Seeing the Eiffel Tower from my window was the moment I knew I was in France, I couldn’t help but scream! It was like a dream come true. Everything I’d trained for, everything I’d been excited about… was happening now and the next few days ahead and everything had gone to plan until then. I was jumping out of my skin excited!
Looking back, arriving in Paris and travelling to our accommodation was one of the most exciting memories. Looking out of the windows of the bus and seeing for the first time the amazingly picturesque, cobblestoned streets and antique, and historical architecture was like something from a fairy-tale. The amount of lively café’s, boutiques and patisseries on the streets amazed me the most! When we arrived at our accommodation, Lille was beautiful. Some of the streets were secluded but most of the town was historical and full of ancient charm.
We stayed at the Ibis hotel; our room was, as the French would say it, ‘petite’ as most accommodation is in France. There was enough room for 2 parallel beds. The bathroom was also extremely small. Taking a positive approach was the key. It was very hygienic and wasn’t too far from the athletics track and the view of Lille from the window was awesome, it was central to a shopping centre. The Italian and Finish athletic teams were also staying in the same accommodation.
It was an enjoyable first day, until about 5pm when we all started feeling a bit dizzy and very tired. France had a time difference of 8 hours so it was definitely different to anything most of us had experienced before.
The next couple of days didn’t go so well for me personally. I had boarded the plane with a bit of a sore throat that I thought I could handle. But unfortunately I developed a sore throat and my fellow roommate wasn’t well either. I did everything to try and get rid of it. The team doctor instructed me to have antibiotics, codral and pandaol to try and get rid of it as soon as possible. I was pretty disappointed that I had prepared so well for the championships, and did everything in my power to stay healthy, but I knew I had to stay positive and continue to believe that my preparation would hold me through the heat.
The whole Australian team thoroughly enjoyed Lille. Many walked around the streets, shopping when we had spare time and looking at the beautiful little town to fill in time, I had to stay in my room, out of the wind to try and get better. Getting out in the fresh air occasionally was important though, and taking a trip to subway or the grocery shop made the time more interesting. It was so fun trying to talk to the French people, and finally the last 3 years of learning French was coming into practice! We also visited a war memorial where 2,000 Australians had died in war, supporting France; it was so nice to learn a bit about our involvement in the war.
The first day of competition came around so fast, and in no time I found myself on the start line of the heat of my first international race ever. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling any better for the race, but mentally I was telling myself I felt fine. One of my favourite quotes is “once you’re beaten mentally, you might as well not even go to the staring line” so no matter what I felt like physically, mentally I was 100%. From the day before the race, I had to pretend I was healthy to feel ready for the challenge I had been waiting for. Everything I had trained for, this was payday. No matter what it took, I was going to qualify for the final of the 1500m.
I felt quite tired from the medication I had been having, but I kept motivated by listening to pump up music and pouring lots of water over my head. I was in heat 1 of 2 heats. I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of being at such a prestigious race but just wished I were 100% well. Nerves rushed through me on the day, on the way to the track, at the warm up and at the call room, but once I got on the Lille Metropole awesome blue track all my nerves just left me. I had been imagining this moment for so long, looking up at the massive, overcrowded stadium, running hard and strong so it didn’t feel like anything new. I felt good lining up next to the best in the world, knowing that 1 year ago I would never have dreamt to get this far.
The race started, and my coach had told me to play it safe and tuck into the race in 2nd or 3rd position, I didn’t want to push the pace faster than it had to be. Once I got out there it surprised me that the race went out so slow, 56seconds for the first 300m. But at the 600m mark, it suddenly picked up. The next 2 laps was sort of a blur, I was just running. Looking back, it reminds me of a quote I love. “The gun goes off, everything changes… the world changes… and nothing else really matters.” All I was really thinking about was making it to the final, getting in that top 4.
The Kenyan and Ethiopian got a gap and I found myself struggling through the last 200m. At the finish line, looking up at the time I’d run, I was quite disappointed, I felt like I’d ran so much faster. My mum and dad were very supportive and assured me that I’d got a place through to the final, and no matter what I thought, I’d given it my all so that’s all that mattered. Between my heat and final I had 2 days to try and get better. I trained lightly, watched fellow athletes and rested.
My 1500m final came around quite fast. From the moment I woke up that day, I remained positive and was determined to put in 100% no matter what. I knew the race could be a once in a lifetime experience, so even though I wasn’t feeling 100% going into it, I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity and just go for it. So I started strongly, at a pace I felt comfortable at. I never feel comfortable starting slow, but I know with more experience, it could be an option. The first 2 laps were ideal, but the last lap and half didn’t go to plan. I started feeling heavy in the legs and couldn’t go with the leading pack. The last lap I felt horrible but continued to give it my all.
I ended the race in 11th position, and was very disappointed at first. I must admit I did shed a tear, because immediately after the race I really hoped that I could’ve done better, I knew I was better than that. My family, my coach, Nicky and the other managers were comforting and made me realise that it was only the start of my journey and my first international experience. Of course, getting a flu and not racing my best was very disappointing but it was the climb, how far I’d come that really mattered.
On reflection, I realised that it was an achievement to get that far, and even though I didn’t reach my personal goal, I knew I’d done my best on the day. Racing at the World Youth Championships was a challenge, a challenge to put everything behind me, like my flu, and just give it a shot. So I look back at the race with this quote, “Life’s challenges are not suppose to paralyse you, they’re suppose to help discover who you are.”
The next 3 days of competition were fantastic for The Australian Team; there were many exciting results. The athletes who headed home with medals included Jake Stein with a gold as well as a World Youth Octathlon Record! Golly, that event would be hard! It was good to see an Australian win a World Youth medal; it made the rest of us athletes motivated to give it our best shot too! Liz Parnov placed 2nd in the pole vault, and her final was on right before my 1500m final so it was fantastic to see her doing so well. Sarah Carli was amazing! She placed 2nd also, with a 2 second PB! Seeing her after my race, made me so happy. Monique Cilione came home with bronze, which was amazing! Altogether Australia placed 13th in the medal tally from 175 nations!
After competition, we had the most amazing time. On the last day at the track, the whole Australian team swapped pieces of uniform with other countries. I swapped for a Kenyan singlet, yehhya! As it was a Kenyan that won my race. Running around, meeting people and living up the World Youth Championships was such a thrill! The last few days were amazing! Everyone loved the trip to Paris. We saw Paris on a bike tour, it was unbelievable and we learnt a lot about the city. The lively cafes, boutiques, exotic food, delicious patisseries and iconic Eiffel tower was something we’ll remember for a lifetime! Paris was the cherry on top of a great international experience, with so many wonderful memories.