If you were to plot the career of Abigail Irozuru geometrically, it would probably look a little like a seismograph leading to a major earthquake.
Such are the quivering undulations of the long-jumper’s time in the sport, knocked back but never truly halted by injury, that there has been an extra triumph in the revitalisation of 2019 – hence the concluding spike on the graph. Now that Irozuru has been able to maintain consistent fitness, her spike-prints are crawling their way further along the sandpits and towards those jumps of 2012.
However, there is reason to suggest that 2019’s return to form is more than a mere after-shock and Irozuru has been settling her shoulders back into the GB vest that was once a second skin. Speaking to Irozuru over the phone earlier this week, that unabashed optimism was once again on show and there was a real sense that no hurdle was too big for an athlete that has already ploughed through them all.
In a sport tightly packaged into thin run-ways and pressurised into fleeting moments, Irozuru told me how she always reminds herself to smile and then, no doubt, the sandpit opens its arms a little wider. Speaking exclusively with GiveMeSport, the Manchester-born athlete explained: “If I don’t have a smile on my face, that’s a cue in my mind that I need to smile more and enjoy the process.
“I think at the European Indoor Champs, I failed to smile as much as I would have wanted and I’ve seen that the results reflected that. Two weekends before that at the Birmingham Grand Prix, any time I had a smile on my face and really took in the environment, I just survived. At the end of the day: what’s the point in doing this sport if you’re not enjoying it?
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Recovering from injuries
“I recognise the difference between when I’m really enjoying it and when I’m not, when it’s not exciting and it’s just all nerves.” It’s common amongst athletes that the sport with which they fell in love with and mastered can sometimes be polluted when immense pressure is poured over the process – something that Irozuru has both acknowledged and started to combat.
However, there can be little doubting that the Brit’s skin has been thickened along the way by the crocks and ruptures that almost drove her to the point of retirement. The reason I don’t use the ‘I-word’ there is because Irozuru dismisses it also and a combination of her mental fortitude, as well as her church family, have been invaluable towards finding light at the end of the tunnel in 2019.
Speaking with her characteristic honesty, the 29-year-old admitted earnestly: “When injuries would happen in the past, I would just be like: ‘well that’s typical, I’m injury-prone anyway.’ There would just be this level of expectation that it was simply going to happen. Whereas now, my mindset has shifted and I don’t even want to use that term ‘injury’, I just want to say that I’m healthy.
Support from her church family
“I believe that I’m back in this sport for a reason and that God has blessed me with this gift to jump far. So, if I do my part by doing everything that I can in training and not going over the top, then it helps me to have a more positive perspective on things. Back in 2016, when I came back to Manchester from Phoenix, I’d ruptured my Achilles’ tendon and I was pretty much crying all the time for a solid few weeks.
“But it was going to church – it wasn’t a mental thing, it was a spiritual thing – that helped me a lot when going through challenging times in my life as well as being connected to my church family.” Almost paradoxically considering the move from the States to the UK, the clouds have parted now that Irozuru is back on home shores and she is entering her final preparations for British Trials.
An integral part of that journey will come on familiar territory, too, as the jumper prepares for the England Athletics Manchester International. The Sales Harrier boasts a season’s best of 6.59 metres, although was unlucky to have a 6.70 chalked off for wind in Marseille, and will be looking to improve on her current British ranking of fourth at the Manchester Regional Arena.
Competing at the Manchester International
When asked about the significance of competing in her home town, Irozuru replied without hesitation: “It means a lot. I know we’ve had it running for the past few years, but it’s also the fact that Manchester has been given the next three years of the UK champs. It says a lot about Manchester and that it is a city of sport. It’s great being part of the event.
“Even when I wasn’t competing, I didn’t have a 2016 or 2017 season because of an Achilles’ rupture and retirement, I was still involved in the Manchester International with England Athletics. I was involved with the social media, trying to support the athletes and I just wanted to stay involved in the sport in some capacity. I feel we’re the second best city behind London, if not the best.”
From the pair of Old Trafford’s to the Etihad Stadium by which the hosting arena stands, we’re not sure Manchester would function without its sport and Irozuru sits on a talent conveyor belt true to the city’s industrial history. Nevertheless, the ultimate test for any world-class jumper will come thousands of miles away in Doha, a land somewhat less familiar to constant downpours of rain.
‘Where your mind goes, your body follows’
Qualifying for the team certainly won’t be easy and Irozuru will need to jump further than the likes of Shara Proctor, Lorraine Ugen and Jazmin Sawyers to reclaim a British vest. It’s something that does little to phase Irozuru who is ready to exorcise the demons of the 2012 trials, where she finished fourth to miss the Olympic team despite reaching the qualifying standard.
“I’m there or thereabouts,” the Sales Harrier analysed. “I’ve had a really consistent run of training and my body is healthy, but ‘kicking on’ would be for me to hit 6.60 and 6.70 on a more regular basis. I think 2012 is when it fell apart for me a bit really. After I jumped that 6.80, I went to the Champs and then finished fourth, but I just couldn’t repeat it even though it was clearly in my legs.
“I had self-doubt after that and I wondered: ‘am I a fluke?’ because these were the words that some people had used. Someone even said to me: ‘if I hadn’t have seen that on video, I wouldn’t have believed that it happened!’ So, these were the thoughts in my mind, but I’m a massive believer in mindset and that where your mind goes, your body follows.”
Smiling through it all
It’s a philosophy that will no doubt resonate with many athletes and hopefully evidence that Irozuru’s unwavering positivity will launch her closer and closer to Doha. ‘Lady Luck’ hasn’t exactly been kind to the Brit over the years, but we like to think it’s in her debt. It would, after all, be truly powerful if Irozuru could replicate the 6.80 that spawned disbelief over seven years ago.
Place a mine-cart or buggy on that aforementioned graph of Irozuru’s career and you’d probably arrive at the cliché of a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’… as well as a bout of whiplash. However, call it craziness or sheer defiance, you can guarantee that Irozuru will step off the track with the broadest of smiles no matter where that graph-line terminates.
Abigail Irozuru is competing at the Manchester International at the Manchester Regional Arena on 14 August – tickets are just £5 for adults, with free entry for Under 16s and Seniors. Buy your tickets at https://events.englandathletics.org.