Jumping hurdles to chase the dream

Lauren Thompson loved studying criminology and forensic studies at university, but what really took off was her athletics career. Not only was she awarded a sports scholarship at Portsmouth, she then received one to go to America to study a Master’s* course. UP for Uni caught up with Lauren to find out about it…

(*A Master’s is more specialised study after your degree)

How did you get in to athletics?
I started in Year 7 in PE, and competed in schools’ competitions. In Year 10 I met a scout at the after-school club who was trying to encourage women into sport. They paid for me to join my local club. At university I joined the athletics team and approached a hurdles coach at Portsmouth Athletics Club. I really focused on my training and massively improved.

Best sporting moments?
I competed in a universities competition held at the Olympic Stadium before London 2012. It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been. The stadium is huge and there were high expectations. Everyone wanted to run their fastest to achieve their personal best time and fortunately I did because the track was phenomenal.

I was then invited to try out for the Olympics! The stadium was full of people cheering. It was on TV and it was strange having television cameras following us round. When I got into the starting blocks knowing all these people were watching, I thought it would put me off. But it was so quiet, it was amazing.

Low points?
The hardest moment was getting injured. As a sports scholar the university gave me a lot support, including free physiotherapy. Without that help I probably wouldn’t be hurdling now.

Although I didn’t realise it at first, the injury did me a favour because it helped me step back from athletics for a few months to concentrate on my studies.

What was your course like?
It was really fun. In forensic studies you learn how to analyse a crime scene, spot the evidence, collect it, photograph it, package and label it. So, it’s really hands on. You get to dress up in crime scene suits and there’s a crime scene house where they recreate real-life situations.

How did you manage your time?
It was difficult in my first year. I partied a lot, so my training suffered. In my second year I became more serious and learnt to balance my time. If I had major competitions and deadlines coming up, I’d do my assignments early.

Tell us about your sport scholarship for America?
The scholarship has given me the chance to study a two-year Master’s degree in health promotion in Louisiana. Everything except my flight has been paid for, including all my tuition fees, accommodation and spending money. In return, I compete for the university at hurdles.

American university sports are taken very seriously and are a really high standard. Student American football games are broadcast on TV and one local university’s stadium is bigger than Wembley. Being a student-athlete is similar to being a professional, but instead of wages you receive a paid education.

What are your hopes for the future?
If I continue to progress, there’s a chance I could race at the next Olympics. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know how to get there. I have fantastic facilities in America and can train every day, so this is the time to do it.

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