As part of Black History Month, back in late October King’s Athletics and Cross-Country Club hosted the ‘Black Women in Athletics’ conference. A panel consisting of three either current or former KCL students were questioned by Sprint captain, Kareem Selman-Jackson, on the highs, the lows and the everything in-between of attempting to juggle a degree on top of pursuing a career in athletics.
The panellists were none other than current Psychology student Imani-Lara Lansiquot and KCL alumni Laviai Nielsen and Mary Abichi, all of whom boast impressive resumes. Lansiquot, who runs the 60, 100 and 200 metre sprints, made her GB team debut at the tender age of 16 and went on to become a European gold and World silver medallist. In 2019 she became the fourth fastest British female sprinter in history, recording a lightning-quick time of 11.09 seconds in the 100-metre sprint.
Nielsen, a 400-metre sprinter, has had a similarly impressive start to her athletic career. She claimed silver at the 2017 European Indoor Championships after bagging two gold medals at the European Junior Championships in 2015. She recently graduated from King’s in 2018 with a degree in Geography.
The third panellist to feature was Mary Abichi who has recently completed her masters in Neurosciences. A fellow 400 metre sprinter, Abichi has undergone a slightly more unorthodox athletics journey to her co-panellists, having taken a five-year reprieve from the sport between the ages of 18 to 23 to focus on her studies. Following her comeback, Abichi went on to claim silver at the 2017 European Indoor Championships followed by bronze in the 4 x 400 at the 2018 European Championships.
It was a night of reflection for the panellists, captivating the audience with their inspiring anecdotes which were both heart warming and wrenching. Delving into the trials and tribulations faced by the panellists in trying to maintain high performance in both academia and athletics, Lansiquot recounted the moment she received her first Team GB call up:
“I’ll never forget it. Although I didn’t actually run in the end it felt like magic. Since then I have felt an expectation to achieve things.”
Back in 2012, Nielsen was a bag carrier for British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, which she claims was a pivotal moment in her development as an athlete.
“It was kind of like a TV show. It’s just something I never expected to do. But I think standing on the track (at the 2012 Olympics) with all those athletes, hearing the crowd and just seeing the ins and outs of how Olympic athletics works really made realise that this is what I want to do.”
As glamorous as these stories sound, none of them would have materialised were it not for the numerous hours spent either on the track or in the library.
“The running revolved around my studies as opposed to the other way around” said Abichi who reminded the audience of the sacrifices that need to be made when pursuing both a Masters in Neurosciences and a career in athletics. Without sponsorships or a coach, Abichi was in the labs seven days a week whilst managing to squeeze in time to work on her sprinting.
When asked about the role KCL has played in assisting the athletes in their studies Lansiquot was quick to praise the university in the way it has catered for her lifestyle choices.
“The pressure is crazy but I really appreciate what the uni has given me.”
Maintaining focus was noted as being integral to their success both on and off the track.