FaceTime and WhatsApp hold key to future ambitions for Yorkshire hammer thrower Jess Mayho

The life of a track and field athlete on the fringes of the national elite can be a challenging one but, as Jess Mayho has discovered, rewarding in more ways than merely medals and money.

Aiming for Paris: Hammer thrower Jessica Mayho. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The 25-year-old Great Britain international from Leeds is a hammer thrower, the second-best in the country as of last year’s British Championships.

Yet she has no funding from UK Sport and fits her training around a 35-hour-a-week job at the University of Leeds.

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Working full-time to fund a sporting career is not uncommon in Olympic sports – many a British athlete has to do the extra yards of a day job before they can even contemplate going the extra miles in training.

Going it alone: Hammer thrower Jess Mayho is determined not to let a lack of central funding get in her way. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

But the Mayho story is particularly intriguing given the lengths she has gone to to become competitive, and the satisfaction she derives out of her unique set-up.

Her working relationship with her coach, for instance, is one that few athletes would countenance, let alone thrive under.

Where most athlete-coach relationships rely on intense one-to-one contact, Mayho’s coach sits in an office in Portugal, in a little village an hour north of Porto, communicating to his student via What’sApp.

“I use the hammer circle close to my workplace, I’ve got a tripod and I stand my mobile phone on it and video-call him,” begins Mayho, who met her coach Jorge Rodriques at a training camp in Portugal two years ago.

Jessica Mayho, Hammer thrower, at her training base in Leeds ( Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“He’s sat at home in his study, he’ll tell me to turn the tripod round to look at different angles etcetera. Even in the gym sessions, I video every lift that I do and send it back to him.

“I’ve done a handful of camps with him out in Portugal, but otherwise, I FaceTime with him four times a week, an hour-and-a-half at a time. Technology for us is essential.”

Even at competitions, her mum films each throw, sends it to Jorge in Portugal and relays his feedback to Jess before her next throw.

Rodriques’s influence is bearing fruit. Mayho earned her career high of a silver at last August’s British Championships, a first appearance for Great Britain at the European Cup in Slovakia earlier this year, and is extending her personal best throw on a regular basis.

Jess Mayho.

Tellingly, the consistency of her performances is improving.

“Being patient is key, I’ve learned that over the years,” says Mayho, whose PB is 63m79.

“Having a plateau of 63m is so much better than a one-off throw that you’re not going to get near again. If you can increase that plateau, the big ones are going to come through.

“That’s the impact of Jorge. His belief in me is so special.”

Prior to Rodriques, two local coaches guided Mayho – who also played netball in her youth – through the early years of her hammer-throwing career.

Cleckheaton’s Mike Morley, a respected coach in the athletics world, was alerted to Mayho’s hammer potential by the length of her arms – ‘good levers to create a good radius’.

He was with her when she took part in the test event at the Olympic Stadium prior to London 2012, but his untimely death in 2014 hit her hard and left her wondering what the future held.

One of her training partners, Matt Lambley, took up the baton to keep alive Mayho’s interest.

“I owe a lot to both Mike and Matt for their coaching,” says Mayho, for whom the final year of her partnership with Lambley was spent rehabilitating a serious knee injury.

“It was amicable with Matt when I switched to Jorge. We both knew I needed to get to the next level.”

It was while overcoming a severely torn miniscus that another influence came into her life. “I was lucky enough to be linked up with a physio called Ollie Waite, one of the first-team physios at Blackburn Rovers, and I owe so much to him,” says Mayho.

“In the times when people doubted me and didn’t want much to do with me, he just backed me, kept telling me we’ll get through this and make you even stronger.

“Ollie has gone beyond a physio’s requirements, helping with the mental side, giving me the confidence to throw again that my knee wouldn’t go.”

Together with her coaches, her mum and dad, her sister Hannah – who is a performance nutritionist and helps with the dietary side – her employers at Leeds University, her physio and her local sponsors, Mayho has established a network of support that eased the challenge of being a self-sufficient athlete.

“It’s a sense of achievement that I have created that environment rather than somebody creating that for me,” says Mayho. “I adopt a positive mindset with everything I’m faced with: how do I tackle this?

“In a way, I don’t want to rely on funding. You see athletes who lose funding and their set-up is destroyed because of that one decision. I’d happily take funding, but I don’t want to be reliant on it.

“When I won the silver at the British Championships, to me it was what ‘we’ did, not what ‘I’ did, because there are so many people helping me.”

A podium finish at the nationals in Birmingham at the end of August would be another positive step for Mayho, as would a strong performance at the English Championships in Manchester at the end of this month.

Sophie Hitchon, as an Olympic bronze medallist from Rio and a team-mate Mayho admires greatly, is the woman to catch.

“Tokyo is too soon for me,” says Mayho of her long-term ambitions. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do on my technique. One way to look at that is I’ve got so much more to give, especially in the technical elements of the throw. The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham is the carrot for me, and then maybe the Paris Olympics.

“Hammer throwers come into their own later than other athletes. It’s such a technical event, I never fully appreciated that when I started.”

Away from the hammer cage, the gym or her work as a facilities manager at the University of Leeds’s Weetwood Sports Campus, Mayho spends any spare time she has giving talks to schoolchildren.

“I was in a school recently and a 10-year-old girl said to me ‘I’ve always been told I’m too big to do anything’. That’s the stigma we want to be breaking,” says Mayho.

“Nobody should have that limit put on them that they can’t do anything because of their body shape or size. Give it a go. Why should somebody’s opinion hold you back from something?

“I came away from that school thinking how much of an uplifting experience it was. If I only inspire one person then that’s my job done.

“Having those opportunities through sport are amazing and something I’m very grateful for. It’s very humbling.”