31st October 2018


Champions are often asked, ‘how did you feel when you won?’ Most reply by saying excitement, relief or that it was all a blur. For Vanessa Wallace (Alison O’Riordan, Enfield & Haringey), she simply didn’t realise straight away because a poorly placed cameraman was covering the scoreboard, so she didn’t know she has won the F34 seated shot put European gold on her second throw.

This has led to endless questions from her family and friends, the main one being, ‘why did you look so serious?’

“I remember not knowing that I had won! I remember the camera man was placed in front of the score board, so I had no idea I had won it on my second throw. I am still getting people – thankfully who I know – asking me ‘why weren’t you getting excited? Why weren’t you happy wiggling on your frame?’. Everyone thought I was being so serious! I just didn’t know but I still just wanted to throw better and better. It is an unusual memory but a very good one.”

For Wallace, her effort of 7.45m far exceeded that of German Marie Braemar-Skowronek and saw her claim her first ever major title at the World Para Athletics European Championships.

After earning selection for British teams over the last two years, this was a landmark moment in the Londoner’s career. A fifth-place finish at last year’s home World Championships fired up the Lee Valley-based athlete, and this year was rewarded with European success.

But has it sunk in yet?

“No, it is almost a reminder of other people’s responses and how excited they get about it. Whether it’s staff or friends, general public. So, no it still hasn’t sunk in that I have my first European title.

“My medal; she lives in a sock, but she comes out quite often as it is great to see the smiles people have when they meet her.”

For all who know Nessa, she is a selfless individual, and is always quick to thank all those who made her success possible.

“I won gold but for me, it feels like that medal belongs to everybody. Everyone has contributed to me getting to that point. It is a nice thing to be able to share with people.”

One of those people is her coach Alison O’Riordan who has been part of this journey over the last few years, and someone Nessa looks towards as someone her has ‘changed her life’.

Despite her relative infancy on international teams, Nessa has quickly become a leading role model to the athletes around her, something which comes naturally to her.

Nessa, who serves as a member of the UKA Athletes’ Commission, adds:

“It is quite a privileged position to be in. To me I’m still a baby growing into a toddler in terms of my experience on British teams, particularly in comparison to some people on the team. But knowing that you are someone people feel comfortable about being around, whether they have had 20 years’ experience, or this is their first trip, for me is a huge privilege. It makes me feel really good and I enjoy knowing that I have my wheels in a couple of camps; I have been an absolute newbie quite recently, but I can also go shoulder to shoulder with some of the more experienced members of the team. I feel I get the best of all worlds; and I like that I get to help and support my fellow athletes in whatever environment we are in”.”

It is not only the athletics environment that she is thriving in. She is also a a High-Performance Sports Scholarship undergraduate studying Sports and Exercise Science at the University of East London, and she believes the focus of her academic career is helping her sport.

“I’m loving it so far. UEL create a fantastic environment to be an athlete in. They are very supportive of the idea of a dual career which as a high-performance athlete, we experience day to day.

“I have aspirations of becoming a lecturer around anatomy, physiology and biomechanics, but I have a lot to learn. I’m also dyslexic so learning is another interesting challenge as we process cognitive information differently, but I adore it and it is a huge part of my world.

“It is an escape but at the same time, is a space to develop. It is an opportunity for me to learn about a wide range of topics, including how my body (and other bodies), are working when we are doing and not doing certain things. It is an integral part of my athlete experience. I’m quite lucky that they run alongside each other.”

For now, she is busy studying in the lecture hall and combining that with some serious work in the gym as winter training fires back into action. Nessa has a unique way of describing the hard work that she will encounter over the next few months.

“Winter training is the making of the superhero. Foundations are made, it’s challenging but it does what it needs to do.”

She adds: “Staying healthy is the main thing. I see it as a holistic viewpoint; it is physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, it’s everything, which takes some work. We do put ourselves through a lot to be able to produce a lot throughout a season. Physically, you have your lead coach, you have your S&C but the mental side may not be looked at as much, so I’m very much into exploring how to better support that side of things. Part of my self-care routine is regular meditation classes and finding spaces where you can just be; I see it as self-development around wellness and that is a very big passion of mine. I strongly believe that will underpin what will be a very exciting but a very demanding next two years.”