What do a former Olympic athlete and a Yorkshire lawyer have in common? They want to get us running and improve our lives. Catherine Scott meets them
Emily Freeman was just ten years old when she started her athletics career.
Her grandparents, who looked after her after school, took her along to Spenborough Athletics Club in Liversedge after she’d shown promise in races at school.
Little did they know Emily would go on to be UK number one sprinter and represent her country at the Beijing Olympics.
“I tried a few different sports but I loved sprinting and seemed to be quite good at it,” says Emily,
“I used to watch the Olympic Games and I knew from a young age that was what I wanted to do,” recalls Emily.
“I was lucky enough to get Lottery funding but I didn’t feel like I’d done anything special. I still had to motivate myself.”
Now, having retired from competing and become a personal trainer, Emily has joined forces with Yorkshire lawyer Natalie Jackson, to set up Totally Runable aimed at getting women and girls running.
“I met Emily properly at my sister in law’s hen night,” laughs Natalie. “We were sharing a room and really hit it off. I enjoyed being a lawyer and was good at it, even becoming a director at the firm where I worked, but I think I always knew that it wasn’t what really wanted to do.”
Natalie only started running five years ago after she entered the London Marathon aged 25 and three and a half stone over weight.
“We had lost a family member from cancer very quickly and we wanted to do something raise money for the hospice that looked after her so me and my brother in law came up with this crazy idea of running the London Marathon even though we didn’t run. I ended up getting a place and he didn’t. I raised £2,500 which shows you what a novice I was.”
Even after completing the London Marathon Natalie says she never regarded herself as a runner.
“In fact after the marathon I said I’d never run again and I didn’t for about a year. Then someone from work needed more people to make a team for the Leeds 10k and I got roped in and that was that. I just loved it. It gave me such confidence to set goals and achieve them. Nothing translate to life as much as cycling. To me it is as much about mind-set as it is about the physical side of things.”
The pair quickly realised that there was an issue, particularly among women, where they wanted to run but felt they couldn’t.”
“Anyone who wants to run can run, so long as they don’t have an injury,” says Emily. “It is a great way to get fit but has so many other benefits as well.”
Emily and Natalie believe running has many transferable skills to everyday life.
With Totally Runable they combine fitness training with self development workshops.
“The real magic of breaking through barriers and limiting beliefs happens when our body and mind are working together to get results,” says Natalie. “I know exactly what most of our clients are going through, because I’ve been there.”
Elite sport has its ups and downs, and Emily certainly went through her fair share. From false starts and dropped batons to world finals, winning races and travelling the world, she’s always been up for a challenge and believes nothing is impossible.
Totally Runable is everything Natalie wanted when she started running, using her experience and Emily’s expertise to break physical and mental barriers and support others to achieve what they never thought possible. Both women firmly believes you can do anything you set your mind to, and they are the proof.
And it’s not just for people who want to be elite athletes, far from it. One of their most popular courses is Desk to 5k.
Although they originally set out with the aim of helping women, it soon became clear there was another area where their skills were needed.
“People kept saying we needed to go into schools, but neither of us had any teaching experience,” says Natalie. But eventually they decided to do a pilot in a primary school and it soon became clear that there was a huge need for Totally Runable.
“There is a big issue, particularly around girls confidence in schools and not just with sport.”
They developed a range of schools courses mixing personal development with fitness training.
“I was slightly different at school as my life revolved around sport, but I did see other girls turn away from it and as a result they lost confidence,” says Emily. “It isn’t just about running and sport it is about doing something for themselves, it’s about empowering them and giving them the mind-set that they can do things no matter what people and society says.”
At the moment they are working with 15 mainly primary schools although they are looking to expand this in to years seven and eight, as well as staff themselves.
They are also carrying out some research at a group of Academy schools looking at children’s different attitudes to sport.
“There are a lot of gender stereotypes that girls are battling by the time they primary leave school,” says Natalie. “And that’s not just related to sport. We want to look at children’s views on this.”
They are already employing other people to deliver their Totally Runable programme in schools which is usually a six week course and used as part of the National Curriculum.
Emily hopes that by introducing girls to the positive effects of running they will fall in love with the sport as she and Natalie did.