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National under-20 pole vault champion Olivia McTaggart is a rising star in her field. The 17-year old Aucklander and 4:40-metre vaulter offers a glimpse of her world as we introduce her as Toyota’s youngest ambassador.
Olivia was a competitive gymnast for 10 years before changing to pole vaulting. She was forced to rethink gymnastics following a back injury in around 2014. She says she had to think of something else to do, that would still deliver thrills and excitement.
Her teammate had been pole vaulting and, while she admits the sport was probably not the best for her back, she gave it a go and adapted. The rest is history.
While the transition was a hard one and she had to deal with her back injury, she says gymnastics helped. “In some ways, while it was hard dealing with the injury, the spatial awareness, strength and agility gained through years of gymnastics helped through this time, and I progressed pretty quickly.”
After less than six months in the sport she competed at the Australian Junior Championships in the under-16 event, and won a bronze medal.
In 2017 Olivia broke the New Zealand under-17 record previously set by Eliza McCartney. She broke the record previously set at 4:22 then later at 4:30 and has since cleared 4:40, her personal best.
“Winning bronze as an under-16 athlete at the Australian Junior Championships was big for me because I had been in the sport for less than six months. I achieved a personal best in my first international competition and I followed it up by winning gold at the nationals.”
It was about this time that Olivia realised she could go a long way in this sport.
As it is with any sport at this level, she says, there have been setbacks. “Initially it was dealing with the transition from gymnastics to pole vaulting and dealing with my injury. Then more recently, three weeks out from the Commonwealth Games, I tore a ligament in my ankle during a warm-up exercise at the nationals. It was not so much the injury, but learning how to deal with it.” She says that learning these lessons at a young age has been an advantage.
The Commonwealth Games didn’t produce the results Olivia had hoped for, but they fulfilled a childhood dream to return to her birthplace (the Gold Coast) and compete, at only 18 years old.
When asked what qualities are needed for success, she says she focuses on passion and perseverance.
She says you need to have passion and love what you do, but alongside passion is the need for perseverance and sheer grit and determination to push through adversity in the sport.
Since the Commonwealth Games Olivia has competed in competitions for two months in Europe. She was disappointed to not make the podium, but also had some great personal achievements and equalled her personal best.
For now, Olivia is working on strength and speed for her New Zealand season, and readying herself for another European season in 2019, in Italy and then Doha, with her eye on qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In terms of advice to start your impossible, Olivia says to find something you love, stick with it and push through the hard times – without letting anything stop you.
She finishes by saying, “I was told I couldn’t, so I did”.