Get up and get down…and get up again. After a devastating injury, triple jump champion Tay-Leiha Clark has set her sights on next year’s Olympics.We talk to the new face of our Sporté activewear line about making the leap.
“We were having all the talks about what to expect over in Columbia,” Tay-Leiha says. “You know, don’t drink the water; take Aerogard for the mosquitos.”
The next day, at her training session, she leapt into the pit and broke her foot.
“In that moment, I was trying so hard to stay positive,” Tay-Leiha says. “The adrenalin masked the pain, but I knew I couldn’t walk. Everyone went into panic mode - I had about 15 physios, coaches and staff around me from Athletics Australia poking at it.
“I cried a little and then I thought no, I’m fine, I’ll just walk it off. But I got an MRI scan and that’s when I realised I wasn’t going to Columbia…”
We’ll get to how that story ends, but let’s rewind for a sec. What you need to know about Tay-Leiha Clark is that she’s persistent. She’s been doing this since she was 5 when she joined Tiny Tots and discovered how much fun it was jumping feet-first into a sandpit.
“I stuck with that until I was 14, and then I joined a small club with 20 other girls in my age group. We’d go from event to event, squealing and giggling and trying to beat each other and laughing at how badly we went.”
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The turning point for her career happened at State Athletics, when Tay-Leiha’s older brother came along to support her.
“He was sitting up in the stands yelling ‘Jump further! Run faster!’ That was his advice. Some coaches had overheard and they were laughing. They invited me to join their training squad and I remember arriving and seeing how elite and professional it was. I’d never done anything like that.”
Everything happened pretty quickly after that. She started attending Endeavour Sports High in Sydney, which works around students’ sporting schedules, and took up training 5-6 days a week. She also made the Australian squad for netball (what is it about sportspeople and being good at everything?) Eventually, she made the decision to focus solely on her athletics.
On a trip to China with her team last year, she got a taste of what it’s like to compete on a global scale.
“We stayed in an athlete’s village and it was pretty intimidating with everyone speaking different languages,” Tay-Leiha says. “Also seeing how some of them prepared for their events and their different traits. The Chinese competitor for triple jump used to scream before she leapt. You hear some of the male throwers letting out a grunt but I’d never heard a female do it!”
Fast-forward back to that jump - the one that almost broke her.
“After it happened I was devastated,” Tay-Leiha says. “I said to my mum, ‘I just don’t know if I want to do it anymore.’ I had a 30 second weak point – but then I turned it around and decided to focus on qualifying for the Olympics next year. That wasn’t the dream until I injured myself. I had this drive behind me; I thought I can actually do this.
Now, Tay-Leiha is focusing on her recovery. The healing process has also given her the chance to spend more time with friends.
“From years Seven to Ten I obviously didn’t get out much,” she says. I was so shy at school, just sitting up the back not talking. But I got a bit more confidence and I started to put my face out there and make more friends. Now I have a really close group. We’ll just randomly decide to go for a drive and see where we end up, or hang out at the movies. We’re that group you hear giggling constantly.”
Even though she turned up on crutches, Tay-Leiha was a total sport on the set of our activewear shoot. She was down for the human pyramid and got along with the girl gang like they’d known each other for years. Selfies were taken, numbers were exchanged. Basically we couldn’t have hoped for a cooler, more inspiring girl to join our squad.
We know who we’ll be cheering for when the Olympics take over our TV’s next year.