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Athlete Interview: Sarah Barrow

Sarah Barrow is a former England and Great Britain diver who competed at the highest level in both the 10m individual platform and 10m synchronised platform events.

Sarah’s career highlights in individual events include winning gold at the 2014 European Championships in Berlin, and qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The latter, achieved while battling long term injury, was a fitting reward and testament to the winning mentality that the Plymouth diver has displayed throughout her career.

A Sports Science degree from Leeds Metropolitan University and a prospective MA in Sports Journalism from the University of St Mark and St John, are academic endeavours that magnify Sarah’s application, time management and diverse skillset.

Following her retirement from professional sport after Rio 2016, Sarah teamed up with sports career transition specialists, Athlete Career Transition (ACT), to begin an internship programme at Bauer Media. We caught up with the elite sportswoman to hear about more her days in the pool, and to find out how she’s enjoying life in a high-performance business environment.

When did you take up diving?

Tonia (Couch) introduced me to diving. I was a gymnast at first, then when I was twelve I started swimming. On my first day I told the coach that I was a gymnast, and he took me for a diving lesson. At first it was just fun, but when I won my first competition, I started to feel like it was what I wanted to do.

I was training every day. I remember in gymnastics I’d be training for four-and-a-half hours each day after school, and then on a Saturday nine-to-five and that was all I knew.

When I went into diving, my routine changed slightly but it was something I really enjoyed, and it was fun to go so I was always keen. When you do a sport full time and it’s going in the right direction, you don’t really think about doing anything else.

What did you enjoy most about being a professional sportswoman?

The social side of things was really good. I was working with people who I’d known for over 16 years. It was really nice to just go in and chat to your friends; it didn’t feel like a work environment. It was just great to enjoy what I was doing and to enjoy diving.

I really enjoyed the competitive side of it too, not so much when things didn’t come together, but when it goes right there’s just no other feeling like it.

What were some of the highlights of your first career?

Definitely winning gold in the European Championships in 2014 – I’m the first British girl to have achieved that, plus the medal came on the back of so many problems with injury.

My other highlight was the 2016 Olympic trials; I was the underdog, I had been taken off the synchro team and I had to work really hard the whole year for one competition to qualify for the Olympics, and I won. My friends and family were there and there was a really lovely atmosphere. It was an amazing feeling and I can’t imagine anything else in life that will rival.

To what extent was retirement discussed with you during your diving career?

I was friends with a lot of the older divers. They would retire and go into other things, and many of them would say that it was hard to find something else. I went to university to study sports science – it was something I was interested in and it was always in the back of my mind that my first career wouldn’t last forever.

I was putting so much work in between 2012 and 2016. By 2016 I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do after sport, but I had done a lot of groundwork had put a few strings to my bow, so at least I had an idea of which direction a second career could go in.

In diving, we were given a lifestyle manager. I talked with her quite often and it was nice to have something to think about other than diving. Retirement, in that context, gave me a good distraction rather than bad.

How did you balance elite sport with studying?

I found life quite difficult at undergrad during the sports science degree. I was involved in a lot of diving competitions at that time, and that was hard to juggle with university. When I got injured I tried to use my time as productively as possible and I put a lot into my studies which has worked out for the best.

Diving was always my priority and it was having a negative impact on my uni’ work, but using my time wisely enabled me to come out with a 2:1. There were other things I did in between my training such as courses and work experience. The undergrad work was difficult but I’m happy I did it.

My injuries were worst during my third year, but I was doing a dissertation on the psychological impact of sports injuries, so I had the benefit of authentic insight. More than that, it gave me a really good outlet to deal with my injury.

Did you receive enough help when you were considering life after sport?