World-class trampolinist Laura Gallagher knows more than most about dedication.
She started the sport when she was six, first competing for Great Britain at 16, and winning the Under 19 World Championships in 2007. Just weeks later, she suffered a huge loss of confidence, and was sometimes too afraid to get back on the trampoline.
Now 21, she has worked her way back onto the squad and has just won a British Airways Great Britons competition which means she will be able to train in Canada and is on course to represent GB at the 2012 Olympics.
What’s an average day like for you?
I always make sure that my lifestyle is as balanced as possible. A usual day would have been: get up, gym, work, trampoline train, swim (on some days), then tea. However, I have just recently given up my job so I can spend more time training. Sometimes I get home and am just too tired to do anything but mostly I make sure that I see my friends and my boyfriend. I have found that I am at my best when I am happy and balanced outside my training.
How did you cope when you had your loss of confidence after becoming the U19 World Champion?
I didn’t cope. I hit absolute rock bottom after 10 months and that was the turning point. I tried so many ways to build back my confidence and get rid of the fears I had. I carried on travelling the hour-and-a-half round trip to training 5 times a week and trying to work through it. Sometimes I would be too scared to get onto the trampoline. I was having nightmares and waking up in sweats where I was falling.
All of the moves were distorted in my mind and as they got worse I started doing the moves wrong and falling. I would take off thinking: “this is it. I am going to die!” I know it sounds funny and it’s totally irrational but that is how I felt at the time. I saw three different psychologists but in truth no one could help me: I had to find my own way through it.
I still get fears and irrational thoughts now but I have found my own way to deal with them. It doesn’t affect my training anymore-I do still get the same feelings, I just know they aren’t real.
I know now that this happens in all sports and is very common in trampolining but it is something that was never spoken about and seen as “a bad thing”. That made me feel ashamed and why it got so bad before I told anyone.
I learnt so much from the experience and it made me so much stronger as an athlete—and a person. I learnt to stop being so critical about all my achievements and I don’t take anything for granted now.
What’s been your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement is definitely overcoming the difficulties I had after I won the U19 Worlds.
My biggest ambition is to be the World, European and Olympic champion. I don’t want to just get to these comps, I want to win! I work so hard not just on the trampoline but psychologically, in the gym and my lifestyle in general . . . it’s about being prepared and ready to compete.
I think part of my drive is innate. My A-level psychology teacher told me I should drop the subject because I wouldn’t pass it—so I worked hard and got an A! It’s just the way I am. If someone tells me I can’t do something or I find something difficult I really try and try until I do it.
What does it mean to you to represent your country?
It’s exciting and I feel proud. It is a good feeling and the reward for lots of hard work.
Do you think there are enough opportunities for women in sport?
I think so. I know that in trampolining and gymnastics there are lots of opportunities for women; I do think some sports will always be dominated by men though.
Is there a big sense of camaraderie in trampolining?
Yes, there is now. Although it’s an individual sport we have become a great team and support to each other . . . Competing against a team-mate doesn’t have to be difficult or nasty—we are all there with the same ambition and I find that seeing another member of the team do well pushes me on—and I’m sure the rest of the squad feel the same. It would be a very lonely sport if it was just you and your coach!
What does it feel like when you are competing?
I feel sick during a comp and normally feel like I want to leg it out the door and go home! For some reason that helps me—I love adrenaline rushes—I do like competing but it does make me feel sick! Learning new moves and doing new combinations is rewarding.
What advice do you give other people trying to get into top-level sport, or who want to just become the best at what they do?
Never give up. When you’re going through the toughest times, trust that they will be the making of you. Learn from experiences as you go—be the leader and not the follower. Be confident and look out for yourself. No one will help you make it, that is up to you, that is your job. Don’t wait for things to happen, make them happen yourself.