My passion for sport started at a very young age. Throughout my time at school and Uni if I wasn’t in class I would be out doing sport. My local sports centre or gym has always been a second home and highly likely more of my time was spent there than at home! When I started work, nothing changed and I have been lucky enough to work for a company who has the technology and vision to enable me to do amazingly in my day job, while also competing at the highest level possible in my sport.
That company is Microsoft, where I work as a Marketing Communications Manager and my sport is Taekwon-Do where I’m currently ranked No. 1 Nationally, No. 2 in Europe and No. 3 in the World in my sparring division.
I was 14 years old when I joined my first TaekwonDo club, and from the first kick I was hooked. It’s a discipline that is as much about mental resilience as physical strength and that really appealed to me. You have to memorise a vast array of set formations we call patterns, as well as perfect your techniques in order to beat your opponent in sparring. I loved learning it all.
And it turned out, I was rather good at it too. Throughout my youth I dedicated myself to the sport. I became Junior National Champion in my sparring division and once I got my black belt aged 16, represented the International TaekwonDo Federation (ITF) England squad at the European Championships as part of the junior team. We brought home bronze medals in patterns and sparring. As I entered the adult category aged 18, I maintained my National Champion ranking.
As much as I loved TaekwonDo, when I began university to study my business and psychology degree the pressure of studying schedules and exams meant I didn’t have enough time to commit to the sport and I was forced to stop competing at an International level. But I found a way to include the sport in my life, albeit in an academic capacity. I was always fascinated with the psychology of elite athletes. What is it that gives them ‘the edge’? So that was the focus for my dissertation. I studied the personality traits of elite athletes and what it was that made them go that bit further than the competition to become champions. I didn’t know at that point how useful this would become.
University ended and after having a fantastic placement year at Microsoft working as an IT Pro audience marketing manager, I was lucky enough to be going back having successfully got a job on the marketing graduate scheme. Having done a degree in Business and Psychology my techie knowledge was rather limited, so my placement year was indeed a crash course! But as I do with my sport, I’m also passionate about technology. I had previously worked in a portable charger travel gadget company called PowerTraveller while I was at college and loved what that technology could enable people to do through bringing power to the most remote areas. In particular, the use of the solar panel charger in remote hot areas such as wildlife photographers using them in place like the Sahara Desert to keep their cameras charged and never miss a shot!
One of the fantastic things about Microsoft is that they truly embrace a flexible working culture focusing more on the work people get done rather than when or where they do it. Our technology enables us all to have conversations in the open so I know what my team is working on. This unites us, enabling us to be a highly effective team wherever we are and often an even more effective team because we can work from the best place to get our work done.
I also have an amazingly supportive manager and team to work with. So while I’m often in the Reading office every day, I also flex my time in the office each day around the meetings I have and the training sessions I need to do. This is made even easier again with the onsite Nuffield Health gym, making fitting three training sessions into my day and getting all my work done possible.
When I first started on the graduate programme, I was training for mixed martial arts, learning about grappling, ju-jitsu and cage work and competing in shows. But after two years I longed after my first love and so resumed TaekwonDo training, joining my local club, Thames Valley TKD, in January 2015, where I’m privileged to train with the amazing Master Whiteley, who also used to coach me when I was on the ITF England junior squad.
My goal initially was to simply return to the sport but after only a couple of months of training, the ITF England squad selected me to represent them at the European Championships in Italy that March.
As well as the benefit of having the onsite gym at work, another amazing benefit is the high level personal training instructors they hire. In particular my PT, Marty Butler. Like many of the personal trainers, Marty has had previously competed at an elite level in a sport, and his sport was in particular was boxing and now focusing on rugby. Having a PT who understands the discipline and training requirements in fighting sports helped my training immensely. He helped me devise a balanced programme and we started doing functional training sessions and pad work. He put me through my paces in every session, just what I needed to improve and I use the Microsoft Band to track and review it all.
The European Championships soon came round and all the hard work proved worth it, as I took to the podium finishing 2nd in Europe for my sparring division. I was elated, but I didn’t have much time to celebrate. As soon as I returned home I was back in full time training for the upcoming Nationals and the World TaekwonDo Championships in Bulgaria in August.
Marty didn’t rest on his laurels either. Together with my TKD coaches we looked over the footage from the Euros. It was clear we still needed to work on my footwork and speed. My hand skills were great (who would expect anything else with Marty coaching me!) but my kicks were still rusty and the footwork would help ensure I could be best positioned to be ready to throw better kicks at just the right time. So we tailored my sessions to do just that and again the hard work paid off and I was overwhelmed to win the bronze medal in my sparring division.
As Marty said when I let him know the results, “being third in the World is not bad!” The icing on the cake for my 2015 achievements was to be awarded the Reading Female Sport Personality of the Year award.
I’m extremely proud, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of all my coaches, physio, team mates and everyone I work with at Microsoft. They are now all helping me towards achieving my goals of being European and World Champion.