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Smashing The Ceiling

Dec 16, 2018

Those of you who listen regularly will know that I am really passionate about sport and that the theme of running (yes, I am one of those annoying people that loves to run) featured in earlier interviews with Nicola Miller, who founded the charity a Mile in her Shoes, and Alexandra Heminsley, whose memoir Running Like A Girl told the story of her first forays into marathon running as a non-sporty woman. 

So much of what I think it is important to encourage is women taking any sort of exercise that they enjoy, increasing participation in varied forms, be that yoga, dance, weight lifting, cycling or anything else in between. But like many others, I am captivated by the Olympics and, particularly following London 2012 which was such a highlight for us here in the UK (people actually made eye contact on the Tube), look forward to the 4 yearly cycle with excitement. I find myself watching and listening - and getting really into - niche sports that I’ve never watched before, like synchronised swimming, archery or judo. 

So I goes without saying that I am REALLY excited to feature our first Olympian on the show today. Donna Fraser was born in Croydon in south west London, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000, and was a professional athlete for over 20 years. She won Gold in the European Junior Championships, and Bronze at the both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, competing in the 400m, and ran a sensational 4th at the Olympics against all expectations, knocking over a second off her personal best in the process. 

Donna's career was not all plain sailing though. Following the highs of Sydney she suffered an Achilles tendon injury that forced her out of training and competition for over three years at the peak of her powers, and she has gone on to say that in her heart of hearts, she is convinced she could have been World Champion in 2001 were it not for injury. But it was not to be, and in a further cruel twist, she was subsequently then diagnosed with breast cancer, aged only 36. Donna's positive nature and extreme focus are evident when she talks about her approach to her illness, and I'm pleased to say that she's made a full recovery. She's an ambassador for Breast Cancer Now, and works to educate and support other women going through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

But unless you're Jess Ennis or Allyson Felix, or another huge name that receives big sponsorship deals it's hard to make a decent living as an athlete, and remarkably, Donna worked throughout her athletic career. She is now the Vice President of UK Athletics, as well as their Equality, Diversity and Engagement Lead, taking a forward-looking approach and driving change within sport to increase accessibility and participation. 

In this episode we discuss:

- Donna's early life and when she knew athletics was a viable career option for her

- Progressing through her career from a junior gold medal at the European Championships to the Olympics in Sydney 2000

- Training with Cathy Freeman and how you prepare for an Olympic Games

- Juggling a job with full time training as a professional athlete 

- Transferable skills that she learned as an athlete that have stood her in good stead in the working world

- The emotional effect of injury on an athlete

- Mental health and retirement of professional sportspeople 

- Her current role with UK Athletics and her role in diversity and inclusion

- Her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the work she has subsequently done to raise awareness

Where to find Donna:





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