The Caribbean island of Anguilla boasts a solitary grass track, which doubles as a cricket pitch. To the side is a cracked runway leading to a long jump sandpit – hardly the launch pad for a world champion.
That Shara Proctor has gone from such humble beginnings to be ranked third in the world, and be one of Britain’s leading medal contenders at the World Championships, shows some leap of faith.
Proctor switched allegiance to Great Britain in 2010 to pursue her Olympic dream – Anguilla, a British overseas territory, is not eligible for the Games as it does not have an Olympic Committee.
Today, she has cutting-edge facilities at her disposal, a far cry from growing up with a dual sporting passion for athletics and football.
“We have one grass track [in Anguilla] that is predominantly a cricket field,” she said. “So every time we run, the cricketers will always shout ‘ball, ball’. We always have to watch out for balls.”
When the Caribbean downpours arrived, the long grass and frequent potholes became even more challenging. The long jump facilities were not much better, barely meriting the term “pit”.
Proctor, 26, said: “We have a long jump box with sand in it but the runway is awful. The runway is a sandbox but the sand is so high you have to jump over a hill. The runway is a piece of rubber strip, so you have to run in a curve a little bit.”
Proctor laughs at such amateurish beginnings and a sporting youth in which she flitted from the sandpit to the right wing on the football pitch, representing Anguilla at national level until the age of 14. Then she made the decision to stick with just one sport and one event, the long jump, at her mother’s behest.
“My mum sat me down and said, ‘Shara what do you want to do with your life?’ She said I would have more opportunities in track and field because it’s an individual sport.”
She credits her humble start with giving her the determination to compete among the world’s elite. It is a journey that has taken her from Anguilla to east Florida, to train with American coach Raina Reider, then the Midlands and, most recently, the Netherlands.
On both occasions she followed Reider, all the while moving closer to a first major outdoor medal – she currently boasts a World Indoor bronze from 2012.
Last month she set a new British record of 6.98 metres at the Anniversary Games and the elusive seven-metre mark surely looms.
“I am in seven-metre shape,” she said ahead of her event, which gets under way on Thursday. “I’ve always been in seven-metre shape but it never came out when I wanted it to. I just need to focus on jumping fine and getting a medal and everything will follow through.
“I think I have to jump around a personal best, or seven metres, to get a medal. These girls are jumping very far and I have to compete with them, so I have to be able to pull out a big one.”
A thigh injury forced her to limp out of the Commonwealth Games last year and meant she was on the sidelines for the subsequent European Championships.
She returned to training only in October but felt weak, fearing she would not regain her best form. But she admits to being driven on solely by the World Championships.
Now physically fit, she believes the mental side – an aspect that has let her down in the past – is the key to her success. “If you don’t have your mind right it could be a mental block on your performance. You can go from No 1 in the world to No 10 on the day.”Reuse content