AN elite gymnast whose career was ended by a spinal injury has been given a real lift after finding a natural ability to pole vault.
Year 11 student at Barnard Castle School Claudia Barkes thought her dreams of competing for her country were over when she was diagnosed with a fractured back.
The 16-year-old had been a promising gymnast since the age of five. A member of the Team GB squad from the age of nine to 14 and with her sights set on Olympic glory, she won a host of medals including a team gold in the Czech Republic.
Aching legs prompted Claudia to have tests for an injury but an MRI scan revealed stress factures to her spine that put paid to her gymnastic dreams.
But Claudia, of Greta Bridge, near Barnard Castle, decided to give pole vaulting a trial and has already been ranked 14th in the country for her age.
“My whole life was built around gymnastics from the age of five and then it was over,” she said.
“It was really hard to come to terms with – 30 hours of training a week for years suddenly comes to an end – and it certainly took some adjusting to. The stress fractures have healed with fibre rather than bone and are unstable. An operation isn’t an option either as that would mean I would lose strength and flexibility. But I wanted to do something.”
Gymnasts are known to make proficient pole vaulters because of their core and upper body strength and speed on the runway so Claudia was asked to attend a three-day training session for beginners at Gateshead College Stadium.
“It was great fun, I seemed to take to it naturally and was asked back,” she said.
Now Claudia trains with Gateshead Harriers and has already taken part in a number of competitions setting a personal best of 3.10m at the Headmasters Conference meeting at Gateshead Stadium where she out vaulted the boys.
“It is a really exciting prospect to again feel I can achieve something within sport,” she said. “I have always been competitive and, while it is early days, it is amazing to find something else which gives me such rewards.”
Her coach Chris Boundy said: “The first time I worked with Claudia you could see straight away she had potential to transfer from gymnastics into pole vault.
“The level that she achieved in gymnastics has given her the all-round conditioning needed to take up the sport. She has a fantastic attitude towards training, always listening and always willing to try and she is a pleasure to coach.
“Generally, it can take girls new to the sport years to jump over 3.00m but Claudia has managed to achieve this having only being training now for just over two months and only ever competed twice.
“As a coach all I want from Claudia this year is to enjoy what she is doing, learn as much as she can and hopefully love pole vaulting as much as I know she loved being a gymnast.”