Three years ago Abigail Irozuru would have laughed at the idea of competing at an Olympic Games, writes Adam LeRoux.
But after finishing seventh in this year’s World Championships, the long jumper is one of Team GB’s best medal hopes for Tokyo - if she manages to squeeze the trip to Japan into her schedule, that is.
In 2016, at the age of just 26, Irozuru decided to hang up her jumping spikes after an endless cycle of injuries hampered her progress in her event.
It was a decision that allowed her to discover new life ventures and now, it’s not just in the sandpit that the Mancunian is excelling.
As well as training, there’s the tutoring and motivational speaking companies she owns which dominate her weekly agenda, and school doesn’t stop for sport.
“It’s difficult to balance everything,” said Irozuru. “A big challenge was going to Doha and being away for that time when it was quite a busy period with parents calling.”
After her remarkable personal journey over the last seven years, Irozuru strikes you as someone who can deal with a few peeved parents.
Ruptured tendons, Achilles surgeries, torn hamstrings - they were a constant. A budding career which saw her finish fourth in the 2012 British Championships seemed to be ending before it had begun.
“I just saw it as every single year being a failure,” she added. “From 2012 I had four years of just pain and challenges. This thing that I really loved to do, when it was fun it was fun but there wasn’t a lot of that because it was just a drain on me.”
And so in 2016, Irozuru had to start a ‘normal life’ - a life after athletics.
Scrolling down my insta reminds me: Life Is Seasonal.— Abigail Irozuru (@Airozuru) January 4, 2020
One grid, you wouldnt even be able to tell I'm an athlete. The other, well...😅👟🏅
Can't wait to spam my feed with more athletics pics & vids in the coming months! #MoreThan pic.twitter.com/gvqCsWoQsq
She was no longer Abigail Irozuru the long-jumper, she had to find a new path.
Just like many other athletes, she joined the motivational speaking scene, initially appearing at local schools.
But as a lot of athletes also do, she aimed higher – she wanted more.
Now she’s the one calling the shots, running workshops on key performance resilience and wellness for the corporate sector, as well as running a successful tutoring business in Manchester.
And as if that wasn’t enough, she decided to return to sport after just 18 months away when the day job produced a lightbulb moment.
“I was still going into schools and businesses and talking to them, but I didn’t feel I was in alignment with what I was saying,” said Irozuru.
“I was always talking about persevering and not giving up on what you love, when I’d given up on what I had loved.
“I didn’t want to look back and have any regrets, that was a big reason. I just thought, ‘what if? What if I could get back to being better than I was before? What if I could be an Olympian?’”
After missing out on both London and Rio, that dream is finally looking like it will be a reality for Irozuru, who was added to the top level Olympic podium funding programme by British Athletics in December - and she is eager to make up for lost time on the biggest stage.
VERY disappointed. But I literally gave it EVERYTHING tonight.— Abigail Irozuru (@Airozuru) October 6, 2019
But I won't stay despondent.
Remember Abs, 2018 u didn't make @BritAthletics team to Euros. Indoors finished 8th in Europe. Now UK No1 & @IAAFDoha2019 7th in WORLD. Look forward to next year.. #Perspective #SelfTalk pic.twitter.com/Wvl3NLoLg1
“It’s a good opportunity for me to rise to the occasion and prove myself,” she added.
“I wanted to be an Olympian, and now I want more than just being an Olympian.
“I have to be really positive about it and be expecting that I’ll be there.
“I’ve skipped the other two so I need to not just be an Olympian, not just be a finalist but do something special.”