For me, my journey as the founder of the FCN started back in 2010 when I took on an athlete called Ollie Hopkins. Ollie was 16 and desperately wanted to compete at English Schools (the top National track event for high school kids in England). Ollie was a 400m runner and up to that point had been coached my an old timer male coach who had apparently been there and done that. I had been coaching for 5 years, but only reached regional level success with my athletes at the time.
Ollie approached me one day because I coached his younger cousin. He told me his goal and that this year would be his last chance because he was going to Uni the year after. It was a tough call; his current 400m PB was 55.68 seconds, and he needed at least 51 seconds to qualify AND he only gave me 10 months! Something in me really believed I could help him, and after reviewing his current training I realised there were so many gaps in it. I did the right thing by approaching his old coach and telling him what Ollie had discussed with me.
I explained I hadn’t poached him, but I wanted to support Ollie, and asked if I could have his blessing. This 60 year old man, looked the then 25 year old me square in the eyes and laughed. He said there was no way I could get him to English schools, I didn’t know what I was doing and was just playing at coaching. Intimidated, but so motivated my head was about to explode, I looked him square in the eyes back and said ‘watch me’.
Over the next 10 months, I read, watched and attended everything there was about 400meters. I even met with Michael Johnsons (former 400m WR holder) former coach for advice! I travelled up and down the country, read coaching books when I should have been working and painstakingly analysed hours and hours of videos of elite athletes running.
Ollie and I worked our arses off, we trained, we studied, we cried…rinse, wash, repeat, week in and week out. There were injuries, there were arguments, there were tears…but slowly but surely, his PB’s started to come down.
10 months later came the big day, the one chance to qualify for that elusive England vest. His current PB was still a little off the time he needed – he had to perform the race of his life in a do or die performance. We set our race plan, we had one last chat, and we wished each other luck. I walked to my chosen viewing spot in the stands, and Ollie marched out in lane order with his fellow competitors.
What made the pressure even greater, was the gentleman, who ten months earlier, had laughed in my face, was the official time keeper. He was going to be the one that told me and Ollie if we had achieved our almost impossible goal.
The gun went and the entire race seemed like it was in slow motion. I checked his time at every 50m, and repeated our mantra in my head. 100m down, and he had nailed the time he needed to hit, 150m he was looking strong, at the 200m mark, he had actually dipped under the time he needed – which isn’t always a positive, because that could result in a blow up on the home straight. With 300m to go, I don’t think I have ever been so nervous in my entire life.
The last 100m was a battle between him and two of Ollie’s rivals, rivals who had both been at English schools in previous years, and rivals who pushed and pushed for first and second place down that home straight. And then, with gritted teeth and as if someone had stuck a rocket to him, Ollie moved forwards and almost seemed to accelerate the last 50m. He crossed the line and as soon as his legs managed to stop, he fell to the ground. One heap of absolute exhaustion.
Whilst I was timing the race and had hit the stop button when he crossed the line, I didn’t dare look at the clock. I was preparing all these lines in my head as to what to say to him – I was ready to tell him how proud I was of him for the 10 months journey he had been on, how incredibly well he had executed that race and how he should hold his head high for what he had just done, regardless of the time.
Whilst lying in a heap on the floor, Ollie managed to lift his head and look at me as if to say ‘well….did I do it’? At this point, there was no point in looking at my watch, because the only time that mattered was the time on the Timekeepers watches. As they all confirmed their results, the official times were written down on a piece of paper, passed to a volunteer whose job it was to take it to the race officials team and record them down.
I couldn’t help myself, I intercepted the piece of paper and took at look at the results:
First Place: Oliver Hopkins: 50.6
He had done it.
As I looked up with tears in my eyes, I caught the eye of the not so polite male coach / timekeeper who looked totally gutted. Ollie having watched all of this, stood up and wobbled his way to me. I showed him the result.
I can honestly say, I have never felt more proud in that moment. Against all odds, against everyones belief at the club and even, sometimes against my own belief…we had done it.
3 weeks later, I was the proudest coach sat in Gateshead stadium (UK) watching him perform over two days. With a beaming smile, I once again supported the very nervous athlete who had set himself the task of another PB (in fact he got two new PB’s!) and a place in the final.
And this is why I started the FCN. I know, my experience is nothing compared to what some women have gone through. I have spoken with many women over the years about their stories of harassment, discrimination, and horrific experiences…some that have made me cry, some that made me gasp in horror – but all that have inspired me. Because I know the strength of women and I know that every single women who has experienced the negative of being a coach has fought their way through it.
For every woman coach who has been told they can’t, for every woman coach who has been laughed at, discriminated against and held back…the FCN is the community of coaches who empower, enable and inspire each other to achieve what they are capable of achieving and enable athletes to achieve their dreams too.
Thanks for all the hard work Ollie!