With Ironman 70.3 wins and the Ironman Texas title achieved in 2011, this season looked to be the year Scotland’s Cat Morrison would mount a challenge for the Ironman Hawaii podium. But, with a persistent Achilles injury and latterly a broken collarbone, 2012 has seen the multiple World Duathlon Champion absent from the triathlon starting lists.
The recovery period has witnessed Cat join the Winning Scotland Foundation, a charity that uses sporting role models to visit schools and promote sport as a tool for life.
Here the 35-year-old opens up on sport development, the students’ response to her “gnarly injuries’ and her 2013 return to racing…
220: How did your work with the Winning Scotland Foundation come about?
Morrison: In 2007 I was working part time for my local council as an Active Schools Coordinator promoting and facilitating physical activity in schools. At the same time I was supported by Winning Scotland Foundation as an athlete on their "Winning Scots" programme.
In the period when I was moving towards being a full time athlete, Winning Scotland Foundation was developing their role model programme "Champions in Schools". As an athlete with experience in working within schools I was able to help the Foundation with the development of this programme. I also became one of their first athlete "Champions" visiting schools in my local area.
This year I've had a challenging athletic time through persistent Achilles injuries and latterly a broken collarbone, so I made the decision to concentrate on resolving my injury problems.
I approached Winning Scotland Foundation to ask if I could work as a volunteer. When the opportunity arose to join the team as a part time member of staff I jumped at the chance! I currently help to manage the "Champions in Schools" programme.
What’s the overall aim of the charity? Any other sport stars involved?
The overall aims of the charity are: to encourage young people to use sport as a tool for life; to give all young people the confidence to be the best that they can be and to increase awareness and understanding that success in all areas of life comes through sustained effort.
Our current champions include Chris Paterson (rugby union), Eilish McColgan (athletics), Lee McConnell (athletics), Mark Beaumont (adventurer) and Shirley Robertson (double Olympic sailing gold medalist). We recruit athletes from as wide a variety of sports as possible. I've recently recruited paratriathlete Jane Egan as one of our Champions.
Tell us about your school visits.
A key aspect of the programme is to use athletes who have a connection to the geographical area of the school they visit.
Each workshop has a separate topic: goal setting, a balanced lifestyle and developing positive attitudes. When the pupils realise that you live nearby or that you train in the local gym it piques their interest. It also means that you have a new fan base at the pool!
My role is to show pupils that my successes have come from hard work and effort – and that attention to a healthy balanced lifestyle, training, commitment and a positive attitude are skills for life, not just sport. Because I visit a school on several occasions, I can form a relationship with the pupils, ask them about their goals and find out if they are challenging themselves to change their lifestyles or to improve in an area of their life.
What was the response from the pupils?
The pupils are often fascinated by the nature of elite sport, especially the stories of travel, gnarly injuries and by the opportunity to see some of my triathlon paraphernalia. Some are genuinely surprised by the effort and commitment that goes into being a full time athlete.
Is the government doing enough regarding sport facilities?
Access to quality facilities for pursuing physical activity both competitively and recreationally is vital for the health and wellbeing of our society. However, simply demanding more and better sports facilities is not the answer to promoting physical activity and sport in our communities.
The necessity for investment in new facilities needs to be carefully assessed, especially in the current economic climate. We need to think innovatively about how we maximise the capacity of and the access to existing facilities.
To this end the Scottish Government, led by sportscotland, has promoted the development of Community Sports Hubs where clubs and organisations come together in community venues including schools. In addition, we need to build strong clubs, develop quality coaches and support our volunteers. We have to inspire and motivate people of all ages and backgrounds to take part in physical activity.
Working for Winning Scotland Foundation I can see that collaborative partnerships between multiple agencies are necessary to develop, promote and sustain life-long enjoyment and participation in physical activity. My personal passion is to inspire and motivate young people to participate in physical activity and to value, use and develop the life lessons that it can provide.
Do you personally think the money spent on the Olympics was the right decision? Or would the £9bn have been better spent on establishing a lasting legacy of new or improved facilities, coaching networks and equipment?
My personal opinion is that the budget for the Olympics, regardless of how it was sourced, was always raised for the purpose of organising and staging the (London 2012) Olympics (and Paralympics). It's not as simple to infer that without the Olympics and Paralympics there would be £9bn available to be channeled into alternative projects.
What’s important now is to build on the positive inspiration of the Olympics and Paralympics. We need to engage new sponsors, engage new volunteers and help our clubs to develop sustainably. Most of all we need to use the Olympics and Paralympics to inspire young people to reach their potential in all areas of life.
What's next for you Cat, regarding the charity and your 2013 multisport season?
My focus at present is on rehab. My clavicle is slowly healing and more recently I underwent bilateral Achilles surgery. I'm keeping as fit and active as my body allows and I intend on returning to full time racing and training in 2013. I have unfinished business to attend to!
When I return to full time training I will step back from my role as programme manager to concentrate on triathlon again. I will continue to support Winning Scotland Foundation and I will remain an active “Champion” in my local area.