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On Track 4 Success spoke to British Skeleton athlete Rachel Hanagan who swapped the athletics track for the ice track in a bid for Olympic glory. Find out about her successful story so far…
Rachel how long have you been in sport?
I’ve pretty much been involved in sport all my life. My first proper encounter with sport outside of school was when I was 9, but I was 3 when I started ballet if that counts.
What is your first sporting memory?
It was at a primary school athletics competition, and I’d won a free place at Star:track for winning the standing long jump. It was then I met my first athletics coaches, who I continued to work with throughout my whole time in athletics.
What first got you into sport?
Like I said, I’ve always done and enjoyed sport. I was in every sports team in primary school, and our P.E teacher Mr Page always made the lessons and clubs fun. It was him who actually encouraged me to join the local athletics club after winning a race on sports day. So that was what got me into more formal sport training.
Rachel what kept you in sport?
Just my sheer love and passion for sport and the challenges it brings, such as discipline and motivation to get up and train when its raining and cold. I also enjoy pushing myself to the limits and achieving things I and others never thought were possible. Also probably the biggest thing that has kept me in sport are the people who have been part of my experience. I’ve met a lot of people doing athletics and have made some lifelong friends with fellow competitors, training partners and my coaches. They make it even more enjoyable and are very supportive when it’s a struggle, and I would miss the “sport family” too much if I just stopped doing sport completely.
Talk about your sporting career so far?
So as I’ve mentioned I did ballet when I was 3 for about a year or 2 (before they invited boys to the classes), and did every sport going in primary school. I properly started training and competing in athletics at around 14 years old doing a variety of different events including heptathlon. As I got older and developed as an athlete I began to specialise in sprints and jumps, with triple jump being my main and favourite event. Throughout my athletics career I progressed from a club athlete to having county, regional and national successes/experiences in both the sprint and jump events. There was one year I think 2007/2008 where all the hard work seemed to pay off and I medalled and PB’d in 3 events at the Kent Athletics Championships, achieved a UK no.1 ranking in the Triple Jump, came 4th at English Schools and qualified for the UK School Games for team SE England where I managed to pick up a gold medal. I continued doing athletics throughout University too, and got the unique opportunity of competing in the Olympic Stadium at BUCS. That was an incredible experience, and the atmosphere was nothing like I’d ever experienced before- it gave me a taste of what it would be like if one day I achieved my dream of competing at the Olympics. However, as with a lot of athletes, injuries were having an impact on my training and ability to perform how and where I wanted to be, so was making it hard to remain motivated and positive to keep going. As I mentioned before, teammates and coaches at the later stage of my athletics career were probably what kept me coming to training despite not really competing anymore. Although winning and doing well was not the upmost important thing for me, I am an athlete who is competitive and wants to give 100% their best, and at the time I wasn’t able to do that. Fortunately at the time I was considering stopping training, Discover Your Gold came about. This was a nationwide multi-sport talent ID campaign searching for the next Olympic Champions. Surprisingly I was invited to a phase 1 test event for track cycling, sprint canoeing, and Skeleton, and after a successful day of testing, I was chosen to progress to the next phase for Skeleton. 3 more phases of tests, observations, and a camp on ice I was selected to become part of the GB Skeleton Team as a Talent Athlete. So in June 2017 I moved down to Bath to train full-time as a Skeleton Talent athlete on the World class Performance Programme. Fast forward a few years, I’ve become stronger, faster, and have travelled all over Europe learning and sliding the various skeleton tracks. Last summer I broke the women’s GB squad 30m sprint record and was the fastest female pusher that year on the push track, and I made significant progress on the ice during winter too. Now I’m working hard to get back to full fitness ready to compete for the first time ever this season on the Europa Cup Circuit.
What has been you greatest sporting achievement to date?
I’ve achieved a lot in athletics that I’m really proud of, but I think my overall sporting achievement has to be becoming part of the GB Skeleton Team as a talent athlete. 4200 people initially applied and to have people see something in me to become part of the team is just something I am hugely grateful and proud of. Although I’ve not competed yet, it’s a real honour to be a part of and representing the GB Skeleton Team.
What has been your biggest sporting challenge to date?
Probably the biggest challenge has been stepping well outside of my comfort zone and leaving behind everything I’ve known to pursue another sporting opportunity with Skeleton. Not only was I leaving behind friends and family, but I was to be working with new coaches, living on the other side of the country, about to train for a sport I had very little experience in, with no guarantee of my future in the sport. All I knew is that it was a challenge I could not say no to.
How did you overcome this challenge?
I drew upon the experience and knowledge from my time in athletics. So for example, my discipline and work ethic meant I listened to the coaches and did all that was expected. Building a great relationship with my new coach was also important for me, and feel this has developed and we understand each other well. Finally making the most of the support network around me to ensure I felt comfortable, confident and happy.
What impact has sport had on your life?
Sport has had a huge impact on life in every aspect as well. I am naturally a quiet and shy person, and especially when younger or when in a new environment, I lack confidence. Sport was that one thing where I could really express myself, and it brought out the confident side of me. It’s become a real passion of mine and guided my subject choices at GCSE and A Level, and went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at University. I’ve always seen myself being in sport, whether that is competing or working in the industry, it’s something that I’ll always be involved in in some way.
What are your key ingredients for success?
My key ingredients for success are passion & enjoyment, hard work and dedication, and self-belief. Firstly you need to love and enjoy what you are doing, for me this internal motivation is what drives me to achieve whatever it is I want to achieve. To be successful you need to work for it. If you are dedicated to whatever it is you want to achieve and know you could not give any more, that’s pretty successful. And finally the one that I perhaps need a bit more of, and is challenged when things aren’t quite going to plan is self-belief. Not only do you need to have a dream and believe in what you want to achieve, you need to believe in yourself that you are able to achieve it.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, Hard-working, Thoughtful
What is your favourite food?
This is tough because I eat and enjoy almost everything and everything. I would probably have to say a roast dinner, in particular my Mum’s Christmas dinner. Although I complain how mountainous it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way (I guess it’s the challenge of trying to eat it all whilst leaving room for Christmas pudding). Since doing Skeleton I have taken a liking to cottage cheese and put it in, on, with pretty much everything I eat.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like crafting and making cards. I do quite a few different crafts including quilling, cross stitch and my newest craft is die-cutting. I also enjoy baking and have recently been practicing my baking and cake decorating skills. I enjoy doing anything that allows me to express my creativity.
Tell us something unusual about Rachel Hanagan…
I like to eat weird food combinations e.g. blueberries and chicken (honestly you should try it)
What do you define as success?
Success to me is doing something you love and having no regrets. If you’ve done all you can and have enjoyed doing it, then that is success.
Rachel has only been training for Skeleton for less than 2 years and already you can see her potential to go all the way to the top.
We look forward to following the progress of Rachel in the years to come.
A series of Skeleton tasters running this summer in Bath.
Get the chance to give Britain’s most successful winter sport a go.
Get the chance to give Britain’s most successful winter sport Skeleton a go.
Get the chance to give Britain’s most successful winter sport Skeleton a go.