1st June 2020
POLLY MATON ON THE BALANCE BETWEEN LIFE ON AND AWAY FROM THE LONG JUMP PIT
At the age of 15, Polly Maton was called up to her first Great Britain and Northern Ireland senior squad, such was the talent and ability she was showing. Since finishing eighth in the T46 long jump final on her 16th birthday, Maton has become a world and European medallist, competed at a Paralympic Games, and accepted a place at the University of Oxford where she currently reads History and Politics.
We caught up with the 20-year-old who is back at her family home in Wiltshire during lockdown…
In her second year of university, Polly is continuing her studies online, working on a political sociology module which focuses on the different demographics – class, ethnicity, gender, among others – and how they influence political participation, voting and political outlook. She is also balancing this alongside an extensive rehab programme which she embarked on during March after a freak training accident led to her requiring surgery on her ankle.
It shows a snapshot of the balancing act for an elite athlete, in Polly’s case, between her athletics and her academic life, and it is one she has thrived on in recent years.
After winning world T46 long jump silver at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, and two bronze medals at the European Championships in 2018, she moved to Oxford and joined Lady Margaret Hall College – which includes inspirational alumni such as Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Laureate.
She says that any initial worries about starting university life were soon alleviated by the welcoming nature of the College.
“It was definitely difficult. I found the first year extremely challenging. But I’m very passionate about my subject.
“I was lucky because I spoke to the university and they agreed to split my second year. So, it is a lot more manageable in terms of splitting my time both academically and with my athletics.”
She speaks so enthusiastically about the university, whether it is her choices ahead of third year – ‘it’s probably between 20th Century global or British history’ – or how the athletics club and its members helped her settle into the routine of training in high performance sport and the daily reading, tutorials and study.
When she hasn’t been training with the University athletics club, or reading in the Oxford’s vast collection of libraries, Maton has also acted as her College’s Disability Officer in recent times.
“I tried to push the College to think of new ways to make itself more accessible, so more welcoming to those with a disability.
“It’s astounding when you think about it, but the library wasn’t very accessible, but they’ve managed to improve that by fitting a new door. The bar was not accessible, so they’ve implemented a ramp. I’m relatively able to get around on my feet but I can appreciate it wasn’t the most accessible place in the world. The buildings are all incredibly old and are protected so don’t have a lot of measures in place, but improvements are being made.”
Alongside these enriching commitments off the track, Maton was simultaneously preparing for the 2020 season which was due to include the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. However, in March, she was hit by a devastating blow following what she describes as a ‘freak accident’ in training.
“It is an athlete’s worst nightmare. There was just a small mound in the sandpit, and I managed to get my foot caught at a very bad angle when I landed. I knew instantly that something wasn’t right. I basically lacerated all the ligaments on the right side of my right ankle, and some on the left side. It was not fun. A couple of days later I went in for an operation. It was really quite devastating, especially being in 2020, Paralympic year.”
With the postponement of the Games following the coronavirus pandemic until 2021, Maton now has time to rehab gradually, and target a place on the team for Tokyo next summer.
“It’s been a couple of months now, and I think the rehab has given me some purpose, something to do every day. But I would definitely love to see a physio again! In the new age of lockdown, I have been doing online physio sessions on Facetime which has been a very different experience. It’s also meant a lot of moving about to get the angle of my phone right. Gemma, the Physio at British Athletics, has been so helpful and great with setting me up with rehab programmes which I can do at home.”
“I am out of crutches which is a great improvement. I’m probably about a month away from doing anything on the track again – I cannot wait for that day to come!”