Isobel Pooley: British high jumper on rehab, women in sport and proving #thisgirlcan
- Updated: March 8, 2017
British high jumper Isobel Pooley was deprived of her chance to compete at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by injury.
BBC Sport caught up with the 24-year-old former British record holder to find out about the recovery process – and talk about why #thisgirlcan on International Women’s Day.
Rehab and remaining patient
It’s March now and I’m still rehabbing! However, I’m far from down in the dumps about it – which is probably not surprising if you’ve read my columns before. Admittedly my return is taking longer than anticipated but, as long as I’m making progress of some kind, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I had a setback in December soon after I started running again; it wasn’t the same injury but it meant I had to ease off the loading and focus on conditioning my ankle with non-impact work.
I’ve been working independently, away from my training group and coach. The sports doctor has advised me not to rejoin until I am completely ready so I don’t get carried away! I’m on my own private mission.
If I want to go to the World Championships in London in August then I will have to compete in June. I know I can do it but will not rush it – it’s just not worth risking re-injury, physically or emotionally.
I’ve been following the indoor season with vague interest, mainly the progress of my favourite characters like my training partners and my Italian housemate Giulia Viola, who’s making a brilliant comeback from injury herself.
And you can’t ignore what my fellow Briton Laura Muir is doing in the middle distance events. She’s making history almost every time she steps onto the track.
Pooley’s pool time
I’ve got quite a good view from the slow lane – literally! I’ve been spending a lot of time in the pool, hanging out with a whole load of other injured Loughborough athletes in the aquajogging lane. More than half the time, it seems to be a case of asking “where’s your stress fracture then?”
There’s also a powerful sense of camaraderie within the group of British athletes who are injured or coming back from something. Even those who are fit are quick to empathise as they’ve all been there too at some point – sometimes a friendly word makes all the difference.
Andy Pozzi for example, who’s had more than his fair share of injuries, recently took the time to sit with me and talk about how to tackle the emotional side of rehab.
There’s nothing more helpful than to speak to somebody who’s been there and made it through. Kat (Johnson-Thompson) stopped at the British Championships to ask after me, which showed a lot of generosity since she was in the middle of a busy weekend.
Women in Sport, #thisgirlcan and getting sweaty
It’s amazing to feel empowered as a female athlete. In terms of participation, my sport of athletics is pretty gender-equal, although sadly there are some massive differences between how women’s sport and men’s sport are treated.
It’s still the case that most of the powerful roles in organisations are held by men. I believe we need to push for a fairer balance in order to safeguard the interests of both male and female sportspeople. Female sportspeople have subtly different needs and I know first-hand how these can get neglected, thus violating the duty of care that should protect sportspeople’s wellbeing.
Campaigns like thisgirlcan are a good talking point but we need to do more to raise the profile of women in sport. For example, it’s fairly commonplace for men to have a kick-about at the weekend. If women’s casual sport could be this popular then we’d be some way towards a healthier, more active community where women can get sweaty and silly too!
I’m looking forward to getting involved with Women’s Sport week in June as I believe gender should not deny anyone the exhilaration of participating in sport.
Braving the shave
Last August I took up the challenge of shaving my head for Macmillan Cancer Support and raised over £1,500. At the time it was a fun project and a welcome distraction from my lamentable injury situation.
Seven months on and I’m so glad to have had an excuse to get rid of my generic, boring long hair and to explore a different look. It’s great to know that life goes on and friends remain, even when you don’t conform to a typical stereotype.
I’ve always felt that make-up, high heels and other nice-but-inconvenient female dress habits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Sure, it’s fun to dress up occasionally, but I’m proud to feel just as confident with no makeup and bottle-brush hair as I do with makeup and skinny jeans on.
In fact, I sometimes feel more exposed and vulnerable when I’ve made an effort as it means competing with other girls who’ve probably got a lot more fashion sense and make-up knowhow than me!
Health, not just fitness
I’m heavier, happier and healthier than I’ve been in a long time!
In previous years I would have been terrified to see the number on the scales go up. I’d have felt unprofessional, ashamed and anxious – like the extra weight was a personal judgement and negative reflection of my self-worth. However, I’m a lot more comfortable with my new weight than I’d have thought possible.
If you’d asked the old me what she thought an extra few kilos would look like it would have been nothing like what the reality is. I’m not going to lie, I think I look pretty good – strong, not skinny!
It turns out that muscle tissue is pretty heavy. The best part is that these new muscles are actually going to help me jump high, not hold me back. I’m stronger in the gym and my bone scans are showing a gradual improvement in my bone health too, so that we should be able to start some dynamic training again soon.
Health isn’t just physical. I waste less time worrying about food these days, am more relaxed at mealtimes and generally feel more balanced and normal than in the past when I was harshly controlling my diet. Life is good, in a much more complete way than before.
Now that my eyes are opened to the world of stress fractures, I’m realising that they’re much more common in females than males. As bone stress is strongly linked to under-eating, this makes sense since I think women typically feel more pressure to lose weight – though I also appreciate that guys can get anorexia, too.
It makes me so sad to think of young people, in the most vibrant years of their life eroding their own chances of success by falling into the trap of under-eating and aiming to be skinny – it’s such a waste. Please, don’t do it!