Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast, which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
I'm your host, Sarah Williams.
Today I've got an awesome guest with me. I've got Isobel Pooley, who is a great British high jumper. She's 22 years old and has already broken the British record which has stood over 32 years!
Isobel, welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast.
Isobel: Hi, thanks for having me on.
Sarah: You have had an absolutely incredible start to your career from winning silver medal at the Commonwealth games back in Glasgow from breaking the record that I mentioned when you jumped a staggering 1.96 meters.
I'd love to discuss that a little later in the podcast, but what I want to do first of all is to take you back to when you were younger, back to your childhood and how you first got involved in sports and athletics.
Is it something that you've always been passionate about.
Isobel: Yeah. I remember enjoying sports at school. Equally vividly I remember being hopeless at most things, to be honest.
Team sports weren't really my things. Tactics and ball skills were never something I really got through in my head. I certainly thrived off being active. I was always an outdoorsy type person, so even if it was things like just walking the dog or being in the garden and out in the countryside, that was what made me feel good about myself.
I felt very healthy when I was just out and about rather than being such and such sitting inside doing video games. I was never really that kind of child.
I got my kicks from sport but I was always last to be picked for teams and stuff. Then athletics really appealed because of its individual nature. I could just find my own way and do things my own way and I wouldn't be letting anybody down or relying on anybody else. It was just about me and achieving my own goals.
Sarah: The high jump is a very individual sport, obviously, it's just you going out there and jumping.
How did you first get interested in the high jump, what was it about it that appealed to you?
Isobel: We used to jump in the garden, me and my sister, just over homemade obstacle courses really. We'd just re-create them in the garden and just run and jump over them ourselves and see how high we could go. My mom one day actually said, "You know you're not meant to actually run up straight, jump over forward, you're meant to run this curve." She did the scissor technique over the bar. Me and my sister looked at each other and looked at her and thought, you're talking nonsense. Just never thought anything more of it until actually in PE we learned that she is right all along and actually you are meant to run a curve. You can go a lot higher if you get your body out of the way rather than just try and hurtle it straight on.
My mom's sporty, and dad is too. We're from a sporty background but my parents never pushed me into it, it was almost by accident that I discovered the high jump is really the perfect one for me. It combines my personality and my physical ability in one sport that really I just enjoy doing, I absolutely love it to bits.
Sarah: I've read that your 6 foot 3. When did you really get your growth spurt?
Isobel: I would say 13 because my sister actually, my younger sister is taller than me by far. She is now 6'5 and has stopped growing, but she was much taller much younger. On the marks on the wall where we put our height, we both overtook our mom who's 5'10 almost before we were teenagers, which was crazy. Equally within our house, us girls are still daddy's little girls because he's 6'10.
Really, it's all relative. Depends who you compare yourself to.
Sarah: How did you cope when you were younger, because I think a lot of girls when you're 13, 14, all you want to do is you just want to fit in, you just want to belong. You're automatically going to stand out because of your height, because it is so unique.
How did you cope with that?
Isobel: Tell me about it. Growing up was pretty difficult to be fair, but I think it's difficult for everyone. You're always worried am I normal, do I look like everyone else?
You just come to the realization that you're not going to look like anyone else. That's the beauty of it. If we all looked the same we'd live in a very boring world. There would be nothing that would set us apart and make us unique.
Being tall is one of the most glaringly obvious differences that you can have because there's nothing you can do to hide it. If you're short and self conscious, you can wear heels.
They make these amazing shoes for men nowadays with a concealed wedge heel. If they feel insecure about their height, which I think is a bit tragic that society makes men feel they should be tall, because society also makes girls believe that they ought to be small or at least smaller than their boyfriends.
People say to me, how are you ever going to find a boyfriend? I think, what an awful thing to say, but they mean how are you going to find a boy who's taller than you? I'm thinking, why on earth does he have to be taller than me, where did this misconception come from that the man has to be the big and strong one and the girl has to be small and vulnerable and be looked after?
There's absolutely no way in the world that I'm going to be this little weak one in the relationship. I don't see why I should have to be. I don't expect a guy to be the big tough one either. It's only when you realize that it doesn't make sense that you can just stop caring.
Sarah: Also, you've learned this lesson much earlier on than some of your peers. You maybe don't realize that until much later on in their life.
Actually, the person you're going out with doesn't have to be taller than you. Is he a nice person, is he kind, is he considerate, is he thoughtful, does he love you?
Those are things which are more important than is he 2 inches taller than you and you've got the perfect height difference or such. Thank you for sharing that. I was actually reading your blog earlier about when you get on a plane and you have people coming up to you saying, "How tall are you, how tall are you?" Does that still happen quite a lot when you go out and about?
Isobel: Every day. I definitely get asked about my height every day. I was out with some friends I hadn't seen in a while and they said to me things like, "I forgot how much people stare at you." Or, "Is this guy for real when he comes up, he just goes, damn, she's huge or hell, she's massive." You just think, massive, huge, since when was that an acceptable thing to say about someone within their earshot?
I get in a huff about it but I think it's just funny that people at the end of the day are so ignorant about how rude they're being. They don't mean to be rude, they don't think. They just don't think.
Maybe they just assume that everybody knows that it is a gift to be tall and that you couldn't possibly take offense or be insecure about it. Unfortunately that's not the case. It reminds you that you do stick out and you're different. I used to really really want to be shorter, but now that high jump's caught on, it's a huge advantage to be tall. I'm really proud to be one of the tallest female high jumpers on the circuit and be doing so well with it. It's the challenge to be tall, but in the end, the long run, the benefit is so massive.
Sarah: This is an amazing gift that you've got, this height. It is taking you to incredible places.
You start doing the high jump at school, your mom told you about the scissor technique which you weren't really sure of.
Who spotted your potential and was like, "Actually, do you know what Isobel, you need to focus in on the high jump." When did that start happening for you?
Isobel: My PE teachers caught on pretty quickly that I should join athletics club, but actually when I went along for the first time they told they I didn't have a high jump coach, but if I wanted to do athletics I could hang around and do some other training for a while and see if a coach became available. I wasn't to be deterred and did a year of sprinting training with another group at the same club, which I was awful at. Still fairly slow, hesitant in my running because I'm just so long. That was pretty unpleasant to be the last one crossing the line, but I was repaid for my perseverance when the high jump coach came over and said, "Do you want to jump with us on a Tuesday night?"
That was really once I had my foot in the door, I was there any time that he asked me. He gave me the privilege to be invited along.
I just wanted to do as much high jump as my body can take ever since. It's just fun, it's liberating I guess to fly over a bar and get the absolute most out of your body. It's really great ambition to just try and be better every day and to have so many people around me to help me do that and to have such clear goals of the Olympics.
I'm just focusing my passion in on the high jump, because I found something I'm so passionate about. That extends to other areas of life. It doesn't matter what you're passionate about, it's just the fact that you're passionate that makes the difference.
Sarah: I think everyone needs to have some sort of passion.
Isobel: Yeah, I think that is a challenge to expose people to enough opportunities that they will find something that they are passionate about and that suits them inherently, but then also to empower them to make that choice to follow that path. It's not always easy, it's not like I feel like I've had a fairly easy road.
If I look back on it, there have been major obstacles. It's come down to really how much I want it, how much I really believe this is the journey that I want to be on. I want to commit to the path.
Maybe it's social prejudice as well, like some girls still find there's a stigma about doing certain professions in science or engineering or math.
There are these connotations that are completely outdated. That may be why people aren't following their passion, because they don't think it's going to be accepted by others around them.
Sarah: I think you made some really really fascinating point there.
Going back to your career and moving things along, when was your first big competition?
Isobel: I remember getting invited to my first international competition and getting the letter that says you've been selected to represent Great Britain in the high jump. I've always been really patriotic and I can't put my finger on where that comes from. I'm a bit obsessed with the Union Jack, I love Englishness, Britishness, that sort of thing.
When this massive box or kit arrived on my doorstep, my two best friends were over. We did a fashion parade where I tried on every piece of GB kit that they had given me, including the hat and the socks. We were just in heaven.
It didn't really feel real that I had risen to the top of our nation in my age group. It absolutely blew my mind, to be honest. It's such an honor. At the same time, I had never aspired to be Britain's best.
I was just focusing on the day today, jumping, having fun, loving what I was doing, enjoying life. I never aspired to be a sportswoman, which is a funny thing. I wanted to be a vet. I think I basically just wanted a challenge but I hadn't quite found one that fit. Once I did, all the other stuff fell into place.
Sarah: Were you training full time now at the high jump?
Isobel: I am now, but that's only recently. I graduated from University in January of this year. I study animal science at Nottingham. I've been a student athlete my whole life until this year where I've now become full time professional athlete, which seems still to be crazy. I'm loving it so far.
Sarah: The University must have been like, yes, we've got Isobel on our team, we're definitely going to win this competition.
Isobel: It was amazing actually to be supported through the university enthusiastically, because the school and the educational system has such a big role in supporting athletes or sports people at every stage of the journey. It was really nice that continued through into university, which is quite a challenging time because you can really invent yourself and define yourself the kind of person you want to be and the kind of lifestyle you wanted to have.
It was really nice that they were there to guide me through that. Aspects like giving me a sports..... there were years where that was really crucial to me being able to continue doing the level that I was doing it. The University of Nottingham has really excelled. It's really ambitious. It wants to be a lot better at sports, it wants to be rivaling those big universities like Loughborough, Sheffield and London Universities in the league tables. It's really doing a really good job there. That comes from supporting athletes.
Sarah: Which is absolutely fantastic.
How did you balance, everyone knows what university life can be like. It can be a lot of socializing, a lot of finding yourself and going out and meeting new people, having an awesome time.
How did you balance that?
Isobel: It was an interesting time, the first year of university. In the end I found myself very isolated from the people who I was around in the halls. I felt quite lonely and quite unhappy, only because I realized that lifestyle wasn't for me. It wasn't for want of trying to join in.
Then I realized that, there's this whole other social circle at the track who were all highly driven, highly motivated ambitious people who were mature for their years. This was the world of the sports person.
I'm not saying we're all perfect, but there a