My journey into Skeleton

The journey actually began back in April 2015 when I attended the English Institute of Sport’s prestigious Skills4Performance residential course in Loughborough. Over a year later (on the 6 September 2016 to be exact) I received an email out of the blue from the EIS inviting me to a Phase 1 Olympic Talent Assessment event as part of the ‘Discover Your Gold’ campaign. This was the biggest multi-sport talent identification campaign in British history, featuring more than 20 different sports and targeting 15-24 year-olds who can be fast-tracked into the world of high performance sport.

As you could probably imagine, I was absolutely gobsmacked to receive this email, especially because at the time I was contemplating giving up athletics due to injuries and work/life commitments. Therefore after debating whether or not to even bother going, I decided to attend but just for the experience and intrigue to see where my fitness was at. So, on October 1, I went to the test event where we were informed that about 1700 athletes had been selected from amongst thousands for Phase 1. For me this was an achievement in itself, but what I managed to achieve during the various tests throughout the day was not what I was expecting.

It turned out I was in much better form than I thought and was actually performing as well as, if not better than I had when I was at my prime in athletics. I managed to finish in the top three of my group for each test and achieving most of the target scores. My standing long jump in particular was the highlight, because not only did I smash both the female target and leader board, but I also jumped further than the male target distance. So it was safe to say I returned from that day feeling rather happy and proud with my performances, but again not expecting anything to come of it.

That was until I received a further email on the 26 October from the EIS told me that I had been selected to progress to Phase 2 assessment for Skeleton, which would be held in November at the home of British Skeleton at Bath University.

Out of the thousands of athletes tested I was one of just 50 to progress to Phase 2, where we spent two days learning more about the sport and underwent further physical testing. Here we were also mentored by 2010 Olympic Skeleton Champion Amy Williams and had the chance to ask her questions about her journey and lifestyle as an elite slider. Being the home of British Skeleton, we got to have sessions on the only push track in the UK, and were assessed on our potential and push ability at the start of a run.

Despite having only had about 12 goes in total on the push track, I loved it and just wanted to go back. Fortunately, I was selected to attend the Phase 3 assessment event which was going to be across multiple locations at the end of November/beginning of December.

Only 20 athletes were selected for this phase which was primarily focused at assessing our psychological ability, that is our athlete mentality and how we cope outside of our comfort zone. We were certainly put through our paces during this week which started with an early 5am trip to the Royal Marines Training Centre in Devon. Here were kitted out in full army gear and had a tour of the grounds and learned about the life and sacrifices of a Marine on the frontline. Then the true test began when we were pushed to our limits out on the training field and obstacle course, before ending with an inspirational talk from Amy Williams and Marine who was also a Skeleton athlete.

The next day was spent in Cornwall at Bude Surf Life Centre, where we were tested on how quickly we learned new skills and how well we worked with a team.

The remaining three days were spent back in Bath where we had various workshops and the assessments and observations continued. The sessions included a psychological interview. This was by far the most difficult and probing interview I have ever had what with a psychologist delving in to your motivations and behaviours etc. Not many left their interview without shedding a few tears- that is how intense it was. The week ended with an ice-camp preparation workshop, talking through the next phase of the talent identification process, which involved a two week camp in Austria with British Skeleton learning to do ACTUAL SKELETON on the ice track.

For that following week, I have never felt so nervous in my entire life. When I had two missed calls on the Wednesday I instantly thought it was bad news. They rang me back the next afternoon to say I was a definite yes for them, and so I was going to be heading out to Austria in February! (Provided I passed the medical the following week).

Thankfully I passed the medical and so on the 10  February 2017 I flew out to Austria. We were treated as if we were elite sliders, going through the same routine they would do. It was an awesome two weeks learning the sport of skeleton and it was so surprising how much goes into the sled, and how many steers/movements there were to control the sled on the ice. On the track walks we learned about the different types of ice and how it affects the sled, what to look out for on the ice and learned the different entrances and angles into different corners. And my word, the emotions and thoughts that go through your head when you are sliding from the top for the first time is crazy, let alone what you experience when sliding at over 100kmh!

Then in March I received the life-changing phone call that I had been selected to be part of the Great British Skeleton Talent Squad to train towards the 2022/2026 Winter Olympic Games on their Fast Track World Class Performance Programme! What is more exciting is that the programme has a proven track record of producing not just medallists, but Olympic Gold medallists with the likes of Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold having gone through the same processes we have been and will continue to go through. Furthermore, team GB have medalled in every Olympic Skeleton competition since Salt Lake City in 2002 where the women’s event made its debut. So this is a unique and probably the best opportunity I will ever get at potentially realising my lifelong dream of becoming Olympic Champion!

Read Rachel’s first blog: How my life has changed

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