Pole vault is not a cheap pursuit but Lizzie Edden is developing a fine group of young athletes despite many of them coming from poor backgrounds
When Lizzie Edden tried to get involved with pole vault, she could easily have been put off by the expensive nature of the sport. But she went on to clear 3.95m at the British Championships and she is now developing an impressive group of vaulters at the Midlands Vaulting Academy.
The youngsters at the Midlands Vaulting Academy are not just talented athletes either. In many cases they come from deprived backgrounds. Given this, finding several hundred pounds to buy a pole is difficult for many of them.
“As a pole vaulter I told people in athletics that the reason I wasn’t making progress is because I’ve not got the right poles,” says Edden, “but there was this whole sense that ‘this is the point of pole vault and you only do it if you have money, because you need to buy poles’.
“I thought this was wrong,” she adds. “I don’t feel it should be the thing that you have to deal with and I never wanted any vaulter to be held back due to their background or the fact they didn’t have poles.
“I just want to make pole vault inclusive to everyone. I decided I didn’t want anyone else to have their progress hindered because they didn’t have the right poles.”
She adds: “We have lots of children in the Midlands Vaulting Academy who aren’t very privileged at home, or they have had some traumatic experiences or are in the case system. This has really given them a new purpose to life. It’s been the best thing we’ve ever done.”
Edden faced the same problems with lack of equipment and limited facilities when she set up the Midlands Vaulting Academy with Adam Lyons. But after working through the day as a teacher in Nuneaton she spent hours during the evenings applying for grants. In addition other help has found its way to the Academy via Neuff Athletic, for example, who sell poles to the Academy at a generous cost price.
The group is enjoying success already too with Charley O’Neill winning pretty much everything in the under-17 age group last year – such as English Schools, SIAB Schools International and England Athletics titles. O’Neill is one of Neuff’s athlete ambassadors as well and Edden says: “The other kids in the Academy absolutely buzz off her. They just want to be Charley.
“She’s in the care system too so athletics gives her a real boost in her life. Since we’ve had Charley, our group has grown to about 22 kids. The parents stand there too and say ‘we’d like our child to be like her’, which is really nice.”
During an age when some of the world’s leading athletes have, quite literally, a pole vault set-up in their back garden, Edden can only dream of such facilities and last winter her group had to travel to Loughborough to vault indoors due to Alexander Stadium in Birmingham being unavailable.
“In the UK there are so many barriers just to train,” Edden says. “There is not much backing from clubs (for pole vault). But you would never see a hurdler without hurdles.”
So what is her dream? “I’d love to have a bed and stick it in a barn or something and have the freedom to train on it and come and go when we like.”
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