After moving to live and train in Leeds, Laura Weightman has established herself as a successful international athlete. Lee Sobot reports.
RISING 1,500 metres star Laura Weightman was left with a bit of a quandary upon completing her A-Levels.
The Alnwick-based north-east star sought a new challenge at a sports rich university yet had every intention of staying close to home given she is coached by Steve Cram.
Five years later she’s a Commonwealth Games silver medallist who made the London 2012 final at just 21 years of age who admits: “coming to Leeds was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Leeds Met University, now Leeds Beckett, was the reason for Weightman’s move to Yorkshire and the athlete graduated with a 2.1 in sports and exercise science in July 2013.
Nearly two years on, the now 23-year-old is still here and very much planning on using Leeds as her base to conquer this year’s World Championships and better still, next year’s Olympics in Rio.
Leeds Met was recommended to Weightman by the university’s head of athletics Mick Hill who knew the athlete could benefit both from what Leeds had to offer – as well as still being just a short drive away from key mentor Cram – not to mention her family.
But it looks like mum and dad Brian and Diana plus Weightman’s four siblings will have to be content with the athlete being a Leeds lass for a fair bit longer with the city’s physio sensation Alison Rose and Leeds Beckett University coach Andy Henderson both integral parts of the 1,500m runner’s success story.
Weightman was born in Alnwick and grew up in the nearby village of Lesbury and explained to the YEP: “When I was looking at universities I didn’t really know what to do.
“I obviously wanted to be still working with Steve who is my coach and I didn’t want to move too far away from the north east so that it wouldn’t work out with the coaching.
“But at the time Mick Hill was head of athletics here and I knew him and he just said ‘look, come to Leeds it will be great, we’ve got a great set up here’ and I just came here.
“It turns out it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
“I’ve found Ali Rose who I would not run without – she is absolutely fantastic – and Andy Henderson who is the coach here – he’s head of athletics now at Leeds Beckett – he works with me on a daily basis with all my technical things.
“And then there’s just the environment as Leeds is a beautiful city to live and train in and I think it’s quite a hidden gem to be honest.
“With the running, it’s available and within five minutes of my house I can be off road for miles of running.
“It’s just beautiful and it just provides me with the perfect hideaway.
“I’ve got great friends here and it’s just a really nice place to live and train.
“It’s given me everything that I need to be a professional athlete.
“I wouldn’t leave. Ali’s here, Andy’s here and I’ve just got a great set up and I think it’s just the perfect place for an athlete to be.”
That sentiment even extends to Weightman’s flat-mate, triathlete Heather Sellars, with the duo sharing a flat in Headingley.
Sellars herself enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2014 and is now embarking on her first World Series bid.
And there can certainly be no hiding the stellar progress of Weightman.
The 1,500m ace burst on to the scene when unexpectedly making the final of the London 2012 Olympics and bounced back from an injury-troubled 2013 by taking silver at last year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze at the Europeans.
August’s World Championships are the key 2015 aim, given qualification at the nationals which take place the month before, but there’s no denying the ultimate goal – Rio 2016.
Given the influence of Cram – not to mention the fact that she is now ranked eighth in the world – a medal would be no surprise.
“It’s really exciting thinking ahead to Rio,” said Weightman.
“Before 2012 I never thought that would even happen so to experience my first Olympic Games in my home country was excellent and it’s got me quite excited looking ahead to Rio in thinking that will hopefully be my second Olympic Games.
“I’ll be 25 by then so I’ll have had a good few years experience and hopefully I can go into these championships and really test myself out.
“Steve Cram has obviously been a huge influence and took me on just before I turned 18 and the improvements I have made in those five years since we have been working together is incredible.
“It’s amazing to see how far I have come.
“I had just turned 21 going into my first championships – the London Olympics – but having someone there with that knowledge who has been there and done that, I went into those games relaxed.
“I wasn’t worried and I wasn’t nervous because he had instilled that belief in me that I could go in there and perform well and that I was ready to be at this level.
“It was the same last year at the Commonwealths final.
“I wasn’t even ranked in the top three to get a medal but I believe I can do it because he believes in me.
“I couldn’t have anyone better to coach me and I’m very lucky as I wouldn’t have achieved anything I have achieved without him.”
Assessing her long term aims, Weightman admitted: “To win an Olympic medal is obviously the dream.
“It’s what you get up in the morning to train for. You train day in day out and run your body into the ground and make yourself feel so tired and sick from training, all because you want that ultimate goal and that is to get a world and an Olympic medal.”
That daily training is and will continue to be performed in Leeds – which has become a home from home for Weightman who has had very few bad days in the city since moving to Yorkshire.
There was one, though – her graduation.
Weightman explained: “It’s been nearly two years now since I graduated – in July 2013 but I missed my ceremony.
“I was meant to be racing in the London Anniversary Games but it was two weeks before that I’d fallen at the trials.
“I was on crutches, my foot was in a boot and my legs were all bandaged up and I wasn’t really in a good mental state.
“So I didn’t go to either!
“It wasn’t a good week for me!”
There haven’t been many – and a summer week in 2016 might be the best one yet.