Hammer thrower Molly Walsh competed for England for the first time in 2019. The Kent Sport scholar talks to us about discovering the sport, what her scholarship includes and how it helps her reach her goals.
How did you get into hammer throw?
I got into the sport at the age of nine, after I did a six-week athletics programme at my local stadium. I started competing seriously at the age of 14. During my first year, I had achieved the national standard and was ranked in the UK top 10 for my age group.
I was selected by my county to go to the English Schools Athletics Championships and have been selected every year since. My highest place finish has been fourth, and I’ve done that twice.
I was lucky enough to be taken into a very high level group of national hammer throwers under Steve Pearson, an 88-metre javelin thrower. He taught me everything I know about competing and really moulded me into the athlete I am today. I’m very fortunate to have been coached by one of the greats in athletics.
What do you like about the sport?
It requires a lot of different elements. You’ve got to be strong and fast. It has to be perfect each time because if you’re one centimetre too high or low, that can change the whole outcome of the throw. It’s a truly skill-based event and I love the challenge.
You’ve also got to have a good mindset because it’s easy to have a bad throw. That can get to you in a competition. You’ve got six throws and you’ve got to appreciate each one. It’s a hard mental game, it’s taken me a long time to understand that side of it.
Did the Kent Sport scholarship scheme influence your decision to come here?
The biggest thing for me was a good sports scholarship programme. I looked on the Kent Sport website which was useful because you could see stories about past scholars, current scholars and the scholar of the year. That really helped me make my decision.
What does your scholarship include?
You get to pick your strength and conditioning slots – you can have a one-to-one or do it in a group of people. There are test days which I really enjoy, these days are a great opportunity to see all the improvements you have made and the trainers will assess your level of performance compared to previous years.
We also get free physiotherapy and discounted massage and a chance to compete in British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), representing your university.
There’s a nice community of scholars at Kent, and a good system. We have evenings where we all talk about our performance and certificates are presented. You meet each other at the start of term, then you see each other on campus and in the gym and build friendships.
The financial support part of the scholarship is very helpful, especially as I don’t receive any other sponsorship for my sport. That helps me buy equipment and pay for my gym membership, so takes away some of the stress when I’m trying to perform.
What have been your recent successes?
My biggest success in 2019 was getting my first England vest, as I won the Midlands Championships. It was a truly amazing moment, it made all the hard days worthwhile. The vest is my most prized possession. I got to go to the Welsh Athletics International in July and came fourth.
Then in September 2019 I threw for Great Britain in Portugal selected by my club, Blackheath and Bromley. We won the YDL National Final, which is a big national event. I came second there, so I got selected to fly to Portugal for the European Champion Clubs cup and that’s a big event against all the best clubs in Europe. I came second and the women’s team came third overall so I have a big shiny medal from that. It was a really special four days’ training and competing with the best hammer throwers my age across the world.
I also still remain fourth on the all-time list with 63.59 metres, this is the world standard. When I threw this I was ranked in the top 20 in the world. I am still very proud of this achievement.
What does your training regime involve?
Outside competition season, I’ll go to the gym five to six times a week (it depends how mean my coach is feeling!). We have a big vision for 2020 so it’s important I am strong enough to fulfil it.
I throw at Dartford Harriers twice a week and complete a variety of circuits and sprints after throwing. When it’s competition season, I drop the gym down to three times a week and competitions are usually on Saturdays. However, for larger events such as Nationals and BUCS there can be qualifying rounds, in which you may have to throw twice in the day. Some people may think that sounds repetitive, yet each day there is something new I have learnt, I really enjoy every day.
How do you juggle training, competing and studying?
The main reason I’m able to juggle everything is because I enjoy every second of what I do. It can be difficult on the days where it’s cold and wet and you’re feeling ill, maybe you’ve got a lot of coursework you need to do. It’s all about mindset. So even when I know I’ve got three pieces of coursework due and I’ve got a gym session in the evening, I don’t see that as a chore. I see that as an opportunity to do well.
An opportunity to do well in these three pieces and a gym session that I’m really going to enjoy. Whereas if I viewed that as ‘oh no, I’ve got so much going on’, I’d never get anything done. You’ve got to have a mindset that you want to do this and do it really well.
Has competing at your level enhanced your time at university?
One hundred per cent. Competing at BUCS was one of my favourite competitions last year, I loved that. Competing also has enhanced my mindset and my ability to focus. My time management skills have really improved. I often prepare everything I need for the day at 8am and return home around 8pm. I simply have to be organised and plan ahead!
What are your goals over the next 12 months?
I want to improve my personal best. I’d like to attend the British Championships which is a senior competition. This is my first year under 23s so it’s a bit ambitious but I believe I can do that. The goal for that is 58 metres and I’m currently throwing 54, so I’ll be increasing towards that goal next year.