Eilish McColgan column: ‘I want to stop kids being left out of athletics’
I loved my home track in Dundee as a kid. It meant everything to me. But looking back, it wasn’t the best.
Before, we had to chase rabbits to keep them from munching on the already uneven path. The children disappeared into total darkness on the back straight before reappearing under the only working spotlight.
I love going back to Scotland even now. My partner finds it odd that I light up as soon as I hear a Scottish accent, or that I speak a hundred times faster as soon as we cross the border. And especially Caird Park remains a special place for me.
It really is an amazing facility, with a state of the art gym, indoor space and a brand new track. But with these much-needed upgrades, the prices go up.
As a sport, athletics is still relatively inexpensive compared to many others. But it’s expensive to use a track, to join a club, to travel to events – especially in Scotland given that the UK Championships are held in England every year. All of these things add up. If you have siblings, it multiplies. For most families, this is difficult. For some it is impossible.
I hate the idea of young children being overpriced by athletics and missing out on the incredible opportunity that sport can bring.
Not everyone will become the next Mo Farah or Jess Ennis – but that’s fine because sport is about more than records and medals. It brings links. It creates friendships. He educates. It creates a reader. It instills qualities that are all important for future life and in any workplace.
“A family member told me to be wise and get a job”
He was thinking about this – from Caird Park; nerves of queuing for the Angus Primary Schools XC on a cold, wet and downright miserable Scottish day; from the excitement of being “spotted” after the race and thinking that I was some kind of child prodigy, even though most of the competitors were probably chosen too – that convinced me to start a non-profit association profit called ‘Giving Back To Pister’.
I want to do my small part to ensure that young people in my region are not excluded from the sport. With my partner Michael Rimmer, I want to create two main pillars of support – female athletes and community athletics.
We are still considering how best to help in the latter case. We may create a scholarship for families who need it the most or even a free day of athletics, every weekend, so that everyone can try their hand at the sport.
For starters, we’re starting small – focusing on Scotland and my home club, Dundee Hawkhill Harriers. But I would like to continue to build to the point where we can support male athletes and even look to expand into the rest of the UK.
The second pillar will be for female athletes. It is already well documented that a large number of women drop out of sport between school and higher education for many reasons.
I wanted to bridge this gap and make the transition a little easier with a small financial contribution towards travel and training costs. They will also be supported with shoes and clothing for the competitions.
There are a whole host of other little bits but that is the gist of the scholarship and it will benefit five people in this year. And I will always be available on the other end of the line to give them advice – if they want it – because I know firsthand how difficult this transition can be.
In 2011, I was nearing the end of college and entering hit-or-miss territory. A family member told me I needed to educate myself and get a job, but I bet on myself and vowed to give myself one more year in order to participate. in London 2012. If I didn’t, I would get a job.
I contacted a local jam company and asked them to support me. Their office was only up the street, but I couldn’t believe it when the owner agreed to meet me. Mind you, I don’t think he expected me to walk out the door on crutches, left foot in a big moon boot.
I had suffered a severe fracture and undergone surgery after slipping in a competition, so I flocked there looking like I was ready to be an astronaut. Still, I was beaming about the Olympics on home soil, which, to be honest, was quite an ambitious goal considering I had never even been in a British team before. But I believed I could do it.
I could tell he thought I was crazy, but at the end of our meeting, I was shocked to hear him say, “Let’s do this right.”
It wasn’t a sum of money that changed my life, but the fact that this stranger also believed in my dream gave me a real boost. I wasn’t going to let them down. Fast forward 10 years and I’d like to think their small investment was worth it.
With this project, I feel like I’m closing the loop by recycling the trust they had in me and the support they gave me to the next generation. Now I want other young athletes to stand on the starting line thinking ‘Let’s do it right’.