Pole voulter Joel Leon Benitez
It is pole position for the 18-year-old who joined The Nottingham ‘team’ in 2017. As well as being the U20 British title holder, he is looking forward to competing at the European Junior Championships in Grosetto.
What is the best and worst thing about your sport?
The best thing about pole vault is the feeling you get when you clear the bar. It's hard to describe the elation and the relief when everything comes together. Pole vault is a very technical event. So many things have to be right to make a clearance and vaulters constantly have to deal with different situations like the wind, weather conditions and track speed which means we are always having to make technical adjustments.
The worst thing is travelling. Unlike other Track and Field athletes vaulters can't just throw a pair of spikes in a bag and get on a bus. My poles are 5m long and a full competition bag weighs over 30kgs. It's quite a job to strap them to the top of your car and then carrying them around a stadium to the pole vault area at the other end. When you go abroad there is always the worry that the poles won't arrive. When I competed for GB at the 2015 World Youth Championships in Colombia my poles were left on the runway in Bogota on the return leg and arrived home several days after me! However although being a vaulter can sometimes be logistically difficult, I do love the event and all the effort is ultimately worthwhile.
What is your best achievement this year?
This year's targets were to become both indoor and outdoor national junior champion and to be selected for GB for the European Junior Championships. I'm pleased to say I've achieved these goals plus I've improved my PB to 5.40m and in May I won the Loughborough International against the best seniors in the UK. It's been a good year so far and I still have several weeks left to try and make more improvements.
What does your normal day and week look like?
A normal day is pretty long. I have a 6th form sports scholarship at Millfield School in Somerset where I board, as it's a long way from my home in Nottingham. I get up at 7.30am and have breakfast then lessons until 3.45pm. My training is scheduled during free periods, lunchtimes and after school. I do a mixture of pole vault technical sessions, sprinting and strength and conditioning. In the evenings I do prep and socialise in my boarding house. During the competition season I'm normally away vaulting at weekends. I travel all around the UK to compete.
What do you enjoy most about being a sports person?
I love training and pushing myself really hard. At school there's lots of sitting so to be able to go out and run and jump is a great release and a really nice feeling. It's a very important part of my day.
What would you do if you weren’t a sports person?
My parents were professional acrobats and If I wasn't a sports person I think I would do something similar as physical performance is something I love and I'm also pretty good at it!
Who is your sporting hero?
My sporting hero is Jesse Owens. His stunning achievements in the face of incredible adversity are totally admirable.
Where is your favourite place to compete?
My favourite place to compete is the Alexander stadium in Birmingham. I've competed there lots of times and the facilities and set up are world class. In 2014 I won the English Schools Championships in Birmingham and broke a championship record that was older than me. The noise, excitement and atmosphere on that day is a great memory that has stayed with me ever since.
If you could win one competition what would it be and why?
It has to be the Olympic Games. It's every athletes dream but only a few ever achieve it and I would love to be one of them. It would be the culmination of years of effort and I can't think of anything more special.
What is your favourite thing to do when you have some down-time?
I really enjoy gaming so when I have some free time I love to spend some of that playing on my Xbox. I also enjoy eating out with family and friends and buying clothes.
Have you ever had an injury?
Last year I suffered an avulsion fracture of my left hip. It knocked me out for the summer which meant I had to miss the World Junior Championships. That was heart-breaking but I realise that injuries are a part of any high level sport where athletes are constantly demanding maximum effort from their bodies. I always work hard on my conditioning and stretching to minimise injury risk.
Are you good with money?
I can always find something to spend my own money on! I don't have very much of it. If I had more money I would like to think that I would spend some and save some.
What sort of things do you / did you spend your SportsAid grant and fundraising on?
My SportsAid grant will be put towards buying new poles. A single pole costs around £750 and I need a series of about seven for training and competition. As I develop I progress onto longer poles. Currently I have a series which are 4.90m but by next year I will need 5m poles so it's a huge expense.
How did you hear about SportsAid?
British Athletics have nominated me for a SportsAid award for the last three years. I feel privileged to receive one. The support is invaluable.
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