We are delighted to introduce to you Sabrina Bakare, a Great British track runner who won became the IAAF 400m World Youth Champion in 2013 and is looking to get back on the track for Tokyo 2021.
Hi Sabrina! It’s good to meet you! What originally got you into track running?
My very first memory was back when I was in year 3 and raced the year 6 boys at lunchtime and ended up beating them! From then on I would compete in all school athletic competitions and when I was 12 I attended a gifted and talented programme run by Active Luton where we’d be taken to the track to train with athletic coaches. This is where I was introduced to my Coach Jane Dixon and encouraged to join her personal athletic group.
We know you’re a big advocate for your school in their help assisting you with training. Could you tell us more about that?
Honestly, without my school I wouldn’t be doing athletics. My mum doesn’t drive and my dad would be working so I had no means of getting to the track. Getting there via public transport would’ve been 2 buses and a relatively long walk and there was no way we could afford to get a taxi to and from the track. This is when my school Barnfield West Academy stepped in and generously paid for my taxis twice a week there and back from year 8 all the way through to year 11. I can’t thank my school enough really, I often reflect and think of how lucky I was and will be forever grateful for the support my school showed me.
Competitively, you burst onto the scene at youth level, picking up a lot of gold medals at both regional and national level. What were those experiences like early on in your career?
I have some of the best memories from back then! During those early days athletics was all about having fun! The only thing on my mind was to enjoy myself whilst trying to run as fast as I possibly could! Championships such as English schools, UK School Games, SIAB were my first experiences of staying overnight for a competition which was so exciting especially with team mates; some who have become really good friends of mine.
The success continued as you broke through to the U20 and U23 National and World championships, how big was the transition when breaking into global tournaments?
Being pretty young at the time, I was naïve to quite a lot of things and everything was new to me! I’ll be honest and say the ignorance was definitely bliss. Nothing was complicated and I didn’t have any expectations really, only to show up and put my best foot forward. The main difference was that I competed abroad against other countries and I was representing Great Britain. The stadiums were bigger, more people were watching and there was a larger media presence but fundamentally everything remained the same which was to run fast and enjoy the experience.
Becoming the IAAF 400m World Youth Champion is some accomplishment. Is that your favourite tournament memory so far in your career?
The IAAF World Youth Championships in 2013 was held in Donetsk, Ukraine. It was my very first time representing Great Britain on a global stage and my first time racing without my mum or coach being there. I came into the champs ranked 8th and ending up winning and becoming the 400m World Youth Champion! I remember feeling pretty nervous before my final and I was on my own in the hotel sitting in the dark trying to zone in. My coach called me just before having to leave for the track and she reassured me that I’ve raced senior athletes before and had nothing to worry about! Jane was right! I won and it was an amazing time for us all I was on cloud nine and didn’t stop smiling for well over a week!
We see that you studied Psychology at Loughborough University, living very close to the training track. How was that experience for you, in balancing training and University work?
Loughborough is a great training facility and during my 2nd year I could see the track from my doorstep. People refer to it as the Loughborough bubble because everything is literally in one place! So it just made things easy and avoided any added stress from having to rush around and commute to training. The HiPAC is where a lot of elite athletes trained so for me it was great to be surrounded by Olympians and see how they approach training and generally operate as a full time athletes; which was a great source of inspiration for me. And in terms of balancing university work and training we always knew that education came first and I managed things pretty well. Unfortunately, I sustained a stress fracture in my tibia which significantly disrupted my training; I spent a lot of my time rehabbing and figuring things out with my body which negatively impacted my performances.
Was there anything from your degree that you may have learned that directly aided you in your training or running?
Yes 100%. I know I am biased but I personally believe that Psychology is one of, if not the most applicable subject not only for me as an athlete but for me as a human being. There are so many things that I have taken from my degree which has helped me deal with pressure, injury, poor performances, comparison and so much more. If I were to highlight one key take away it would be learning about mindfulness and living in the present moment. We all spend a huge proportion of our time dwelling about a past that has gone and preparing for a future that is yet to come. But we have to realise that the present moment is the only moment we can truly operate from. Learning self-awareness and accepting life as it unfolds in the moment was a real game changer for me and helped to re-frame my thoughts around performances that didn’t go quite so well, it also allowed me to bounce back and approach what’s next with an open mind.
Just how much has Covid-19 affected your own training? Have you been able to get down to the track as much?
Unfortunately, like a lot of athletes Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the way we train and forced us to be creative and adapt to the new way of living. Our local athletics track Stockwood Park Athletics Centre (this is where I work also) was closed back in March and didn’t open until Monday (2nd Nov). We couldn’t quite believe that as soon as we had the chance to open we had to be closed down again due to the 2nd national lockdown! Luckily I was able to use my club Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers training facility during the previous lockdown, but at the moment that is not available to us as Saracens are based there and occupying it. Hopefully we can access other tracks close by if they are open of course, but in the meantime the grass will have to do.
You’ve come through a lot in the past few years, not least including your Lupus diagnosis. What are your personal goals looking forward?
The Lupus did come as quite a shock and just another thing I had to learn to figure out and manage. I always look at the bright side of things and every single experience I’ve had has taught me something and has shaped my perspective on life. My personal goal is to represent Great Britain at a senior level this something I’m yet to do. And outside of track, I am really passionate about mental health; and aim to continue on spreading awareness, reducing stigma and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing mainly through my website.
We love that you’re an ambassador with our partner, KickOffAt3. Why did you choose to get involved as an ambassador?
It all happened so authentically, my manager and friend Catrina Lewis was supporting KickOffAt3 with their charity event challenge RunOffAt3 back in July in support of the ACLT charity. I saw it on social media and their ethos just resonated with me so I decided to get involved to support a great cause. My relationship with KickOffAt3 just developed from there on in and I am now an ambassador! I hope to make a positive contribution to what is already such a great team full of wonderful people.
As you received assistance from school to get you to training, just how important are community initiatives to young people who don’t have access to sports?
Absolutely vital, I hope that I am an example of what could’ve been had Active Luton not offered the Gifted and Talented programme, which lead to me being introduced to my coach and then encouraged to join my athletics group, only made possible from the assistance of my school. I think community initiatives are so necessary because talent is everywhere and young people do want to engage in sport but face barriers in doing so. And this is where community initiatives really come into their own; by breaking down those barriers and providing an opportunity for all no matter who they are or where they come from.