Q&A: Dare to jump, with Brendan Reilly

The double-Olympic high jumper has shared his inspirational story with hundreds of schools to ensure that children remain engaged in sport

Brendan Reilly was five times British Senior Champion, European and World Schools Champion and former world record holder for 15-year-olds.

What led you to become a high jumper? 

It started with my dad, as he played Gaelic football and there is a lot of running and jumping involved in that sport. I was too young to play, but I would stand on the sidelines running and jumping. So when I first tried the high jump at around 10 years old, I showed some promise as I had already been practising the movement. However, it wasn’t until I was 14 that I started to take it seriously. At 14, I won a bronze medal at the English Schools Championships so I decided that I needed to find a coach. 

I then wrote to the man that was coaching the best high jumper for my age and asked him to coach me. That man, who is now 80 years old, still has my letter as he says it must have taken a lot of courage for a 14-year-old to contact a national senior coach. 

Where did that ambition come from? 

I guess I was always that kid that wanted to do something with their life. I was pretty average at most sports but when I discovered I was good at high jump I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. 

How did you manage to juggle school life and training? 

It was very difficult. I would have to do my homework in the car on the way to training and then do more on the way home. It was definitely a balancing act but I was studious and I did enjoy the challenge of school. Sport is great, but the bigger picture is education. 

Your ambition and determination took you to two Olympic games, do you have a memorable moment?

I was 19 at my first Olympics and I don’t think I appreciated it, because when you are young, you think you are going to jump forever. Then, at my next Olympic games, I missed it because I snapped my Achilles tendon. This did build my resilience as it pushed me to get back to my full fitness and go to another games. It’s always easy when you are in great shape but so hard when you can’t even walk across the room. I have fond memories of my last Olympic games as I knew what I had gone through to get there. I talk a lot about that when I speak at schools. 

Have you had any experience with independent schools? 

Yes. When I finished athletics I realised that I really enjoyed coaching, so Oakham School were kind enough to take me on whilst I did the training. I graduated in 2011 and then I reached out to schools explaining that I would like to offer a free speech which focused on athletics. Stowe School accepted my offer and a few months after my speech I discovered there was an athletics job at the school. In September 2012, after London 2012, I found myself at Stowe as Master in Charge of Athletics and Football. 

How does Stowe nurture sporting talent? 

I was given all the resources I needed and I had encouragement from the school to develop performance analysis and strength and conditioning. From an athletics perspective they were great. 

What would you say to young people interested in pursuing a career in athletics? 

I would say try all the events. I tried every event and I was pretty rubbish at them all, until I discovered the world of high jump. Once you discover something that you are good at, then I would recommend research – become a scholar of your event. 

What are you up to now? 

I am currently working with Squad in Touch. Their software increases school/parent relationships, making the life of the sports department easier and cleverly uses my team of GB Olympians to inspire, engage and ignite the next generation. 

To learn more, visit squadintouch.com/platform/

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