UEL student dreaming of glittering prize at World Para Athletics Championships
Paralympic shot putter excited about prospect of competing in Olympic stadium
University of East London (UEL) student Vanessa Wallace has her sights set on her first international medal when she competes at the World Para Athletics Championships in London next week.
“I’m like a magpie at the moment because I’d really like something shiny,” admits the sport and exercise science undergraduate, who will be going into her shot put competition on Monday ranked third in the world.
“If I can maintain my ranking then ‘shiny’ will happen. If not, I’ve just got to show that I’m getting closer to winning a medal.”
Vanessa who only took up shot put under the guidance of coach Alison O’Riordan two and half years ago, made her GB debut last summer and finished fifth in the F34 final at the Rio Paralympics.
A year on, she believes she is not only healthier and stronger but more confident in her ability – especially after throwing a UK record of 7.56 metres at the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Championships at Bedford in April.
“I feel different this time, compared to Rio,” she says. “I don’t want to be over-confident but it’s nice being a year older as an athlete and having had a bit more experience.
“I know my competitors a bit more now, and know myself a lot better – where I need to work to improve. I’m feeling more relaxed and comfortable as an athlete.
“When I came back from Rio I still felt someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and say ‘you’re not meant to be here’. Imposter syndrome was real. Now I feel comfortable and I’ve even had a couple of team-mates say ‘you really look like you know what you’re doing’.”
Vanessa will need the performance of her life if she is to overcome the big-throwing Lijuan Zou, of China, and Poland’s Lucyna Kornobys. The pair are ranked joint first in the world this year and won gold and silver respectively at the Rio Paralympics.
But the Haringey athlete does have home advantage on her side and is looking forward to competing in the Olympic Stadium in front of family and friends – plus a contingent of supporters from UEL.
“I cannot wait to compete there,” she says. “I’ve only been in the stadium once when I was a spectator at the London Anniversary Games two years ago.
“There are going to be a lot of people there who I know. Even my wheelchair services in Haringey are coming.
“My mum is coming, too, and it’s the first time she’ll see me on the big stage. She’s seen me once at a small evening meeting at Lee Valley so she’s going to see the wonderful world that I now inhabit.
“I think my day of competition also has the biggest uptake for schools tickets, so there are going to be about 30,000 little people there making a lot of noise.”
As well as training for the World Championships, Vanessa has been involved in the logistical side of staging the event as a member of the London 2017 Inspiration Programme Board.
“I’ve picked up a lot on how an event like this comes together and it’s absolutely mind-blowing,” she says. “It’s not just ‘rent a venue and get some athletes and some people in nice T-shirts and off you go’. The amount of work that goes into it is amazing.”