Former 400m runner Nicola Sanders on Sky Scholarship and finally winning an Olympic medal

Christmas on a beach, injury woe and an Olympic medal 10 years late! It was a lively athletics career for Nicola Sanders.

One of Britain’s finest 400m runners, who reluctantly retired in October 2014 after a series of injuries, reveals how being a Sky Scholar between 2011 and 2013 was a huge boost during a very challenging and painful phase in her life.

As the Scholarships celebrate eight years since launching, with Sanders one of 11 pilot Scholars, the mum of two opens up on finding peace with her troubled yet glorious athletic journey.

“The Scholarship programme came at the perfect time for me.

“After a career high at the 2007 World Championship where I won silver and then a European Indoor gold, I was hit by injury in 2008 and 2009 and hadn’t quite reached my potential and frustration was setting in.

“My coach Tony Lester approached Sky about supporting us and they not only agreed to support us in our journey to 2012 but they decided to roll it out across several sports and the Sky Scholarship programme was born. I like to think I was the inspiration!

“When I became a Scholar, my athletics was in a tough place. I was struggling with my back injury and I had to start from scratch, building my body up from the inside out to be stronger again.

“Having the backing and belief of Sky at a time like this really boosted me and gave me the confidence and belief to carry on and get there.

“One of the main things the programme allowed me to do was get away for warm weather training more. I suffered with several chronic injuries in my career but my body really benefited from running in warmer climates as my muscles didn’t have to work quite so hard in the heat.

“Our training group usually travelled to South Africa for most of January to escape the British winter but in the lead-up to 2012, Tony and I decided we needed to maximise this and go away in December, spend Christmas there and come back as usual in late January.

“It was tough to be away for Christmas, but it was also an easy decision knowing it would put me in the best place for the following season.

“It was strange being somewhere so hot for Christmas (up to 40 degrees) and I got slightly sunburnt on Christmas Eve which was a new one for me! There weren’t many decorations up and because of the heat it didn’t feel like Christmas but it all went OK.

“Christmas day was weird! I spent the day alone (apart from the cleaner who popped in and left me a biscuit!) and watched boxsets for most of it – Grey’s Anatomy and 24.

“Then I did a Skype call home and my whole family were sat round the dinner table and I was passed from person to person. It made me feel sad, but on Boxing Day I was on the track in the gorgeous South African sunshine. More athletes arrived and we all spent New Year together on the beach which was great.

“When you know you are doing something that is great for your athletics it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice and I am grateful Sky gave me the opportunity to put myself in the best shape I could be.

“Unfortunately 2012 didn’t prove to be a great year. My back injury continued and I had to withdraw in the warm-up from the European Championships which was my last chance to qualify for the individual 400m at the London Games. So it was just the 4x400m relay event at the Olympics for me.

“I was in really good shape in London. I had a great training camp and was excited to be part of the relay squad. Unfortunately I didn’t get picked for the final team and so never got to run in that amazing Olympic stadium.

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