18th May 2020


There are few people who can say they have competed for Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the international stage, graduated with a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering, and enjoy a career in the car production industry by the age of 25, but that’s exactly what Anna Nicholson has achieved.

For Anna, the end of 2019 signalled a breakthrough moment in relation to her athletics career as she competed at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, finishing fourth in the F35 shot put on her senior world debut. She also extended her personal best to 8.47 metres, a significant improvement.

The track in the United Arab Emirates was a long way from Sunderland where she works full-time at Nissan as a production engineer following her progression from their graduate scheme. Nicholson is responsible for working on the trim and chassis for some of the most recognisable cars on the roads in the UK.

Based in the North-East, but originally from Carlisle, Nicholson started para athletics at the age of 15 – in 2010 – when she attended a multi-sports day for people with disabilities near her school. Anna – who has cerebral palsy – wowed the PE teachers on the day when she launched the sponge discus from one end of the sports hall to the other, showing her potential in the throws.

One person who recognised her talent and started her athletics career at school was Lenny Miller, the father of Nick Miller who is the current UK record holder in the hammer.

Her improvements continued under Clare Buckle, who she says has been an influential presence throughout her career, coaching and offering support throughout her time in athletics. Although she would later settle into the Gateshead AC sprints group under the guidance of Janice Kaufman after her move to Newcastle to study at the university, she would still receive remote throws coaching from Buckle.

In 2014 and 2015, her progress in the sport was rewarded as she was selected for the IWAS World Junior Games in the shot put and discus (the latter only in 2015, winning three silver medals). Nevertheless, she admits that she struggled with the balancing act of training and university, so competitions during these seasons did not go as she expected.

At the end of 2015, she moved to her current coach, Richard Kaufman, as she continued to balance 25 to 28 hours of university work and assignments alongside training.

The big breakthrough for Anna came during 2018 and 2019, when she found more balance between work and her athletics, which subsequently contributed to more consistency in the sport.

She points to her involvement with the British Athletics Development Academy, and in particular, the coaching sessions at these camps. The time spent in this environment had a positive impact for her and her coach which she says improved the stability of her throw and made a significant difference to her technique.

Fast forward to July 2019, at the national championships in Manchester, she entered the event completely relaxed following a week off work which she attributed to helping her to throw a personal best. With the refinements to her technique, she threw 7.91 metres, a distance she would improve at three further competitions in 2019. This set her up for selection later in the year for the world championships as she achieved the minimum entry standard for the event.

A few weeks later, Anna competed in Paris at the WPA Grand Prix event, her first experience of an international level competition since 2015. Taking on the majority of her global rivals proved to be a dry run ahead of the worlds later in November, and she improved her best again, this time to 8.12m, her first time over the eight metre mark.

Her success at the worlds in Dubai was the icing on the cake of a hugely successful season as she pushed the best in the world and almost earned a spot on the podium.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 14: Anna Nicholson of Great Britain competes during the Women’s Shot Put F35 final on Day Eight of the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on November 14, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

As 2020 rolled into view, Nicholson’s focus was on securing a spot on the team for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, but as the coronavirus pandemic led to its postponement, Anna is instead continuing her training via social distancing-friendly throws sessions with her coach, a DIY gym set-up in her garage at home, an online Pilates class and sprints on the rugby pitch behind her house.

With the Games in Japan now scheduled to take place in 2021, Nicholson views it positively, as she believes an extra year is beneficial for her and will mean she is in the best possible position to compete at the pinnacle of the sport.