Star hurdler overcomes injury hell

IPSWICH Harriers' teenage hurdler Charlotte Cattermole was on the verge of quitting the sport altogether before Christmas following four years of injury and illness hell.

Stuart Watson

IPSWICH Harriers' teenage hurdler Charlotte Cattermole was on the verge of quitting the sport altogether before Christmas following four years of injury and illness hell. Now though, as STUART WATSON found out, the 15-year-old has rediscovered her passion for athletics.

PODIUM finishes at three consecutive major indoor events have put a permanent smile on Charlotte Cattermole's face - and considering the journey she has been on it is no wonder.

The 15-year-old hurdles specialist first burst onto the scene at the age of 11 when, in only her third race, she set the fastest time in Britain for her age group.

However, in the ensuing four years of her fledgling athletics career, the Holbrook High School pupil has not gone a single season without a serious injury or illness.

A broken ankle quickly followed by a torn hamstring accounted for two consecutive seasons being largely wiped out from her portfolio, while an undiagnosed fatigue condition last year meant that her training schedule was left severely disrupted.

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Throw into the mix the fact that Cattermole suffers from hypermobility - a type of double-jointedness that often sees her hip momentarily pop out of its socket while she hurdles - and you can see why the teenager found herself on the verge of quitting.

“I was saying to a team mate a couple of months ago that I couldn't see myself doing it much longer,” admits Cattermole. “I just couldn't see myself getting back to the standard I had set when I was younger.”

Over the Christmas period Cattermole did some serious soul-searching and decided to give athletics one last throw of the dice. And what a decision it has proved to be.

After linking up with coach Steve Mitchell at Chelmsford Athletics Club, Cattermole entered the South of England Championships at London's Lee Valley on January 17. There she finished in an impressive time of 9.23 seconds in the 60m hurdles.

From there, Cattermole went on to claim gold medals in the 60m hurdles (9.20s) and 60m sprint at the Norfolk Open held at Kings Lynn, while a week later she ran a fantastic 9.02 seconds to secure a silver medal at the prestigious London Games.

Those results have meant that Cattermole - who was able to complete just one indoor meet in 2008 - is already ranked sixth in the country for 60m hurdles in 2009.

“Lee Valley was the first time in four or five years that I have actually smiled after a competition,” said Cattermole, who has now got her sights set on shining at the English School Championships in July. “I've feel like this is the first time I've ever been able to properly show what I'm capable off.”

No-one is more pleased for Cattermole then her Ipswich Harriers coach Ricky Hanley who has been with her from the very start. He said: “There have been quite a few tears shed for Charlotte over the last few years I can tell you. We are all so delighted for her.”

Cattermole said: “I just want to go on record with my thanks for Ricky (Hanley). He's been awesome with me. For five years he's been behind me all the time.”

CHARLOTTE Cattermole has no regrets over her early gymnastics career, despite the fact she attributes many of her athletics injuries to the sport.

The Holbrook High School pupil joined Pipers Vale Gymnastics Club at the age of seven and, by the age of 10, she was competing at national level.

Cattermole quit gymnastics at the age of 11 to follow in the footsteps of her mother and give athletics a try - and she is now convinced that her punishing gymnastics training schedule is the cause for many of the injury problems she now suffers.

“With the gymnastics I was training 30 hours a week with Romanian coaches,” said the driven 15-year-old. “They never really understood my injuries, they just pushed me through them. I remember breaking my ankle and, two weeks after coming out of plaster, they had me competing again.”

Doctors have since told Cattermole that all of the strenuous stretching undertaken during her years as a gymnast - a time during which her body was at one of its peak rates of growth - has caused considerable damage.

The main problem has been that she has developed hypermobility - a form of double-jointedness that means she has become too flexible for hurdling.

“I can often feel my hips pop out as go over the hurdles,” said Cattermole. “Even when I'm just walking I can feel them clipping.

“I'm always terrified when I hurdle. I'm in a lot of pain whenever I run, but I know that athletics is the way that I want to go because I love it. I feel I know my body now. I know what it can and can't do.”

But asked if she regrets her early career in gymnastics, she said: “Not really. I obviously regret the injuries it has led to, but I also realise that gymnastics did set me up for a lot of things. It introduced me to the enjoyment of sport and showed me how to set goals.”