“I didn’t think I would get it at all, I knew there’d be a lot of strong athletes going for it. I was pretty shocked to be honest.” For Laura Rose Smith, a dental student at the University of Manchester, it was more an application of hope rather than expectation. “I follow Yellow Jersey on Instagram and social media and it was all over Facebook and Instagram and I was like ‘ooh, I’ll have a look what that entails.’ Read it and thought I might as well apply, it’s a really good opportunity.”
The scholarship aims to encourage more students to both take up and keep up triathlon, as research shows a significant number of competitors drop off at University level. The judging panel, comprised of professionals and business heads from the triathlon world, were looking for a student who could demonstrate how they would increase participation among their peers and community, as well as someone who is passionate about the sport.
That student was Laura. “They wanted someone who would take friends with them and get over people involved. I’ve done a lot of stuff for the cycling brand Liv. I was a Liv ambassador, promoting and getting women in sport. I set up a triathlon club at David Lloyd. Getting newbies involved. I’ve set up my own coaching business with my partner. They said they liked the entrepreneur side of things and the fact I was so passionate about not only my training but getting other people into it.”
Laura is studying dentistry at the University but began her higher education in Birmingham and it was here that a love of triathlon matured. “I was a runner since a really young age. My dad was a middle distance runner so I followed suit. The interest [in triathlon] arose watching the London Olympics.
“My mum was like ‘you should give that a go’ and I was like ‘there’s just no way I can swim for that long at all.’ I couldn’t believe how quickly they were getting their shoes on and off! How the hell do they do that? That got put to bed for a couple of years but there was always a little bit in the back of my head that was like ‘oh, I do want to give it a go’. Then I started uni at Birmingham in 2014 and they’ve got a really established tri-club and I thought ‘you know what, give it a go. University, prime time, try something new.’”
While the first session was understandably a little daunting, Laura said the welcome she received encouraged her to continue. “I went to the first swim session, I felt like I was drowning the entire time to be honest but I really loved it. The nice thing about triathlon is it just attracts people from elite to complete novice. There were people that couldn’t even swim at the training and then people that were competing at an elite level. Everyone was so friendly that I was like ‘you know what I will see what the run and bike sessions are and I’ll sign myself up’. It started from there and didn’t stop really.”
The love of the sport developed into an interest in coaching and in November of last year, Laura along with her partner Luke Pollard started their own coaching business, Rocket Coaching. “I set up a tri-club in David Lloyds and while I was in Birmingham, I worked there part time while I was studying for my first degree. It was a real success and I made real strong bonds with the athletes.
It was really sad when I left actually, I was getting a lot of messages. My parents are part of the tri-club so I was getting feedback from them like ‘people are missing you.’ Me and my partner thought ‘you know what, we kind of have a clue what we’re doing. Why don’t we set something up?’”
Laura’s work around the sport is what impressed the judges and it is something she hopes to expand on in 2018. “Part of the scholarship is they want me to get students involved. Especially as Manchester doesn’t have a tri-club maybe try and set one up. I’m going to be trying to do that other the next year so anyone that is interested or fancies trying it out. You can enter beginner aquathlons and duathlons which are run and swim or bike and run, just to give you a taste of it. Get in contact with me. Even if you’re a runner, it’s really good cross-training. They all crossover.”
The balance of university and triathlon can be difficult but Laura believes it is worth it. “I think my day starts and finishes just a little before everyone else (laughs). I swim with City so their training sessions are at quarter to six in the morning so it’s in the pool at quarter to six which means a 5AM wake up which is always nice. Then uni in the day and then I usually try and fit something in when I’ve finished uni. Try and work it best I can, just juggling things around really.”
Laura’s aim is to become a dentist but she hopes triathlon remains a big part of her life. “I do want to be a dentist. I think triathlon will hopefully always follow me. I would still like to do it at a fairly competitive level when I’ve qualified. Keep the coaching business ticking over as it’s something I do enjoy.”
In terms of 2018 goals: “for the past two years, I’ve come fourth at the British Triathlon Champs so it’d be really, really nice to squeeze on that podium. It’s very annoying fourth place so I definitely want to tick that one off this year. I’d like to be selected for the U23 Elite Great Britain Team for the World or European Duathlon Champs, that would be pretty good because it’s my last year of being U23s. So it would be nice to finish that on a high. I think Europeans are in Ibiza so it’d be quite a nice post-race celebration after. Finally, a podium at the Elite British Duathlon Champs.
“A non-performance goal would be maybe set something up at Manchester. Just increase the participant level as much as I can. It’s a great sport and it’s brought so much to me, it would be great to see something develop in Manchester.”
If you want to get involved with triathlon at university, Laura has given The Mancunion her contact details and asks anyone to get in touch whether you’re a complete novice or an established runner.
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- Website: http://laurarosesmith.co.uk